I am the Ěl of Bĕyth Ěl, where you anointed the standing column and where you made a vow to Me. Now rise up, get out of this land, and return to your native land.
In 2005, after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, a debate ensued after many of the African American population of New Orleans affected by the storm were called refugees as they sought shelter and safety. The use of the term aroused angering sentiments among African Americans as a result of the implication of the term suggested the racist status of second-class citizenship, or even an individual not indigenous to the United States. The media, however, found the term appropriate to describe the state of crisis in which African Americans found themselves. When taking into account the political definition of the term, however, we find an interesting designation of individuals identified as refugees, as the 1951 UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees defines the word as anyone
owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
For so-called African Americans, the difficult historical reality of identifying ourselves as a nation has presented a conundrum of sorts. Are we refugees? Are we Negroes, Black, African American? A manifestation of prophecy, the very appellations we’ve been given, and particularly that of African American, juxtaposes the polar existences of a continent’s and country’s respective national history of a people in stark contrast with one another, in that the legacies of Africa and America are as divergent from each other as life is from death. Not only this, but the acceptance of African Americans by each land mass has also been with more or less a reluctance to embrace us as one their own. Hence, we find ourselves in a purgatory of identity, stripped of our very historical consciousness and left to wander in time as an apparition without any indigenous connection to land or culture. As relates to this unfortunate reality, the late, honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey once said that a people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.
While many so-called African Americans are unable to recall their ancestral lineage and historical identity, there are, however, a growing number of us who are actually reclaiming our stolen Israelite consciousness and have even returned to the land of our forefathers. To verify the so-called African American Israelite heritage there is an increasing amount of scholarship that is being presented which is unveiling evidence that the Israelites after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE migrated from Israel’s Northeast African location into the Southern and Western proximity’s of Africa. It was from there that many of our ancestors were taken and caught up in the kidnapping and trafficking of human cargo that led to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. During this African holocaust of unimaginable horrors, the process of erasing our collective historical consciousness was enacted in order to wipe us out as a nation so that the name of Israel be remembered no more (Psalm 83.4). In this vein, it is said that our enslavement and exploitation of labor was not so much for the profit of Western Civilization and the United States as it was an effort to remove us as far as possible from our Power Source in YHWH, the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as from our cultural consciousness and land.
Interestingly, this week’s Torah portion Vayetze entails a very similar circumstance involving the patriarch Yaaqob. Intent on finding a wife to continue the legacy of his forefathers, Yaaqob fled from the Promised Land to the people of Mesopotamia after being assailed and stripped of all his belongings by Eliphaz, the son of his fraternal nemesis Esau. Eventually, Yaaqob winds up in his father Abraham’s peoples land of Aram Naharayim with nothing more than his life. Barely escaping from the jaws of death at the hands of his twin brother, Yaaqob now finds himself up to his forehead embroiled in the bedeviling schemes of his uncle Laban.
Over the long haul, Yaaqob served Laban for 20 years of his life in order to secure his family which he acquired in the land of Aram. Experiencing various harrowing tasks and suffering many travails at the hands of his uncle, the day came when YHWH told Yaaqob to return to his native land. After being deceived time and time again, Yaaqob finally decided that he would act with subterfuge in order to fulfill what had been promised to him after he had accomplished that for which he had traveled to Mesopotamia. While returning to Canaan land, Laban caught wind of Yaaqob’s departure and eventually catches up with him in order to accost him for leaving without notice and for his daughter Rachel stealing his household idols. When he encounters Yaaqob’s caravan, he inquires about his idols and investigates the tents of Yaaqob, which infuriates Yaaqob and causes him to forcefully state
What is my transgression? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? Now that you have searched all my goods what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my brothers and your brothers, and let them decide between the two of us! These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your sheep. That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you, I myself bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. Thus I was! By day the heat consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. Unless the Elohim of my father, the Elohim of Aḇraham and the Fear of Yitsḥaq, had been with me, you would now have sent me away empty-handed. Elohim has seen my affliction and the labour of my hands, and rendered judgment last night.
As a result of Yaaqob’s trial, we can conclude that his experiences were what molded him into the tzaddik that he was destined to become. It is this very principle that too relates to our experience in our present captivity and exile from our native land. For it is through our chastisement and disciplinary ordeal which we have endured that we too will learn to be perfect, as Scripture tells us,
Beloved ones, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that is coming upon you, to try you, as though some unusual matter has befallen you, but as you share Messiah’s sufferings, rejoice, in order that you might rejoice exultingly at the revelation of His esteem. If you are reproached for the Name of Messiah, you are blessed, because the Spirit of esteem and of Elohim rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is praised. For do not let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or doer of evil, or as a meddler. But if one suffers being Messianic, let him not be ashamed, but let him esteem Elohim in this matter. Because it is time for judgment to begin from the House of Elohim. And if firstly from us, what is the end of those who do not obey the Good News of Elohim? And if the righteous one is scarcely saved, where shall the wicked and the sinner appear? So then, those who suffer according to the desire of Elohim should commit their lives to a trustworthy Creator, in doing good.
1 Kepha 4.12-19
Because you have guarded My Word of endurance, I also shall guard you from the hour of trial which shall come upon all the world, to try those who dwell on the earth. See, I am coming speedily! Hold what you have that no one take your crown. He who overcomes, I shall make him a supporting post in the Dwelling Place of My Elohim, and he shall by no means go out. And I shall write on him the Name of My Elohim and the name of the city of My Elohim, the renewed Yerushalayim, which comes down out of the heaven from My Elohim, and My renewed Name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.