Inheriting the Land of Israel

The beginning of Jewish national history is found in this week's Torah reading.

Contact Editor
Daniel Pinner,

D. Pinner
D. Pinner
INN: D.P.

After almost sacrificing his beloved son Isaac on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, Abraham returned to his home in Hevron to find that his beloved wife Sarah had died.

“And Abraham came to eulogise Sarah and to mourn for her” (Genesis 23:2).  But distraught as he was, he didn’t even have a moment’s peace to mourn for his wife: he immediately had to start haggling with the devious, mendacious, and avaricious Hittite, Ephron, to buy the burial-plot in the field of Machpelah in Hevron.

Thus begins Jewish national history in the Land of Israel. This is the first-ever land purchase in our homeland, which Abraham then bequeathed to his son Isaac, who bequeathed it to his son Jacob, who bequeathed it to his sons, and so on down through all generations.

In recording these events, the Torah subtly calls our attention to something additional, something the Torah does not record directly but nevertheless wants us to notice. In the word וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ  (“and to mourn for her”), the letter kaf is written in smaller type than all the other letters: ולבכתה (in Masoretic nomenclature, kaf ze’irah). Thus it appears in all hand-written Torah scrolls and in virtually all printed editions of the Torah.

What does this shrunken kaf signify?

The Ba’al ha-Turim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, Germany and Spain, c.1275-1343) writes: “The kaf is small because his mourning was small, because she was old”. That is to say, Abraham took comfort from knowing that Sarah had lived a long and full life, dying at 127 years old.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 1808-1888) offers a similar approach: he interprets the verb בוא, “come”, to connote withdrawing from a public place to a private place (and he cites the examples of how the word is used in Judges 6:19, Isaiah 26:20, and Ezekiel 3:24), and deduces that “the meaning may simply be: Abraham withdrew, shut himself in to mourn for his Sarah and to weep for her. He does not wear his heart upon his sleeve, makes no parade of his grief. Whether this is not indicated also by the small כ in וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ, we state as a possibility”.

The Kli Yakar (homiletic commentary on the Torah written by Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntchitz, 1550-1619) has a very different understanding:

“Our Rabbis said (Sanhedrin 22a) that anyone whose wife dies before him – it is as though the Holy Temple was destroyed in his lifetime..., which is why [Abraham] originally came to eulogise Sarah for her sake; nevertheless he did not cry for her, because he knew that she had ascended to the highest place of the most exalted and precious honour.... And then he cried for the ‘Holy Temple’ which had been destroyed in his lifetime...which is why [the Torah] makes a break after the word ‘Sarah’ [i.e. ‘Abraham came to eulogise Sarah and to mourn for her’ rather than ‘Abraham came to eulogise and to mourn for Sarah’] – his crying was for the Holy Temple which was, so to speak, destroyed in his lifetime. The Holy Temple was 100 cubits high, which is alluded to in the small letter kaf, because the numerical value of כ"ף is 100, suggesting that those 100 cubits were so to speak diminished”.

Hevron’s sanctity pre-dates Abraham’s purchase of the field and the cave: “The Machpelah Cave is on the threshold of the entrance to the Garden of Eden” (Zohar Hadash, Volume 2, Ruth 33b). The very name חֶבְרוֹן, Hevron, is a cognate of חִבּוּר, hibbur, connexion. Hence the name Hevron connotes “Place of connexion”. It is the place where this world connects to the next, where the Jew’s past, present, and future connect.

And Hevron was, of course, to play a major role in subsequent Jewish history as one of Judaism’s holiest cities, second only to Jerusalem: among other distinctions, it was Israel’s first capital, the city from which King David ruled over all Judea for the first seven-and-a-half years of his reign (2 Samuel 5:5, 1 Kings 2:11, 1 Chronicles 29:27).

364 years after Abraham bought the Machpela Cave, a year and a third after the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel encamped in the Paran Desert (Numbers 12:16), just south-west of Israel, and from there Moshe despatched twelve spies on their ill-fated reconnaissance mission to spy out the Land of Israel.

“They went up by the Negev, and he came to Hevron” (Numbers 13:22). Though many translations render “...they came to Hevron”, the Hebrew is unequivocally in the singular: ...וַיָּבֹא עַד חֶבְרוֹן, “...he came to Hevron”.

Who came to Hevron and why?

– Calev son of Yefunneh, the representative of the Tribe of Judah, parted company temporarily from his eleven colleagues and went to Hevron, there to pray at the Machpelah Cave, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, for the strength and courage to be saved from the evil counsel of the other spies (Sotah 34b). And indeed Calev opposed their counsel, he and Joshua were the only two of the twelve to enter the Land of Israel more than 38 years later, and Joshua blessed Calev and gave him Hevron as his inheritance (Joshua 14:13-14, Judges 1:20).

Forty-five years after the sin of the spies, when the Children of Israel had already conquered most of their Land, Calev reminisced about that terrible incident:

“I was forty years old when Moshe, the Servant of Hashem, sent me forth from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the Land, and I replied to him with a report as was in my heart. Although my brothers who were with me weakened the heart of the nation, I nevertheless fulfilled what Hashem my G-d wanted.... I am still today just as strong as I was on the day that Moshe sent me: as my strength was then, so my strength is now for war” (Joshua 14:7-11).

And following this, Joshua gave Hevron to Calev, and he indeed conquered it and drove out the mighty Anakim. (Hevron is, of course, in the heart of the territory of the Tribe of Judah, Calev’s Tribe.)

In recording this event, the Prophet subtly calls our attention to something additional, something he does not record directly but nevertheless wants us to notice. In the word כְּכֹחִי  (“as my strength” in Joshua 14:11), the letter kaf is written in larger type than all the other letters: ככחי (in Masoretic nomenclature, kaf rabbati). Thus it appears in all hand-written Scrolls of the Prophets and in virtually all printed editions of the Tanach.

What does this enlarged kaf signify?

– I suggest that it is the exact opposite of the shrunken kaf in Genesis 23:2.

According to the Ba’al ha-Turim, the diminished kaf in Genesis connotes that Abraham’s mourning was diminished. The corollary is that the magnified kaf in Joshua connotes that Calev’s joy at inheriting the holy city of Hevron was magnified.

According to Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the diminished kaf in Genesis connotes that Abraham kept his mourning private. The corollary is that the magnified kaf in Joshua connotes that Calev publicised his inheritance of the holy city of Hevron to all and sundry.

According to the Kli Yakar, the diminished kaf in Genesis represents Abraham’s “Holy Temple” which was destroyed, meaning his wife who died in his lifetime. The corollary is that the magnified kaf in Joshua connotes that Calev’s “Holy Temple” which was constructed, meaning Jewish sovereign independence in the Land of Israel.

Jewish national history in the Land of Israel begins in Hevron; the national Jewish claim to sovereign independence in the Land of Israel begins in Hevron with our father Abraham.  Hevron – the city which connects the individual Jew with Jewish past and Jewish future; Hevron – the city which connects the individual Jew with the Land of Israel.






top