Last week one of my daughters moved from the southern Hebron Hills community Eshtamoa to Shilo in Binyamin.
Shilo is one of those places I’ve read about in the Bible, and a place passed by when traveling to communities in the northern Shomron.
I have friends who live there, but haven’t ever really spent time at this ancient, holy place. (Next week, over Succot, we will, with G-d’s help).
Presently Shilo is broken into two areas: the modern community and the ancient site.
Modern Shilo was founded in 1978. Actually, I seem to recall being present at the ceremony, for the laying of the cornerstone at the new community, an event attended by Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt”l and other important rabbis and leaders. Today almost four hundred families live here, 40 kilometers (40 minutes) north of Jerusalem. It is quite an impressive community, with a view second to none.
Ancient Shilo was Israel’s first capital. Following the exodus from Egypt, the ancient Israelites brought here the ‘Mishkan,’ the ‘tabernacle’ – a sanctuary built by Moses in the desert, and later brought into Israel by Joshua. It remained in Shilo for 369 years, until being destroyed by the ancient Philistines, shortly prior to the crowning of Saul as King of Israel.
One of the most famous Biblical stories occurring at the Tabernacle in Shilo was the “Hannah’s prayer.” Having no children of her own, Hannah cried out to the L-rd at this holy place. Eli the High Priest, seeing her whispering, and thinking Hannah to be inebriated, reprimanded her. When Hannah replied, with tears and a broken heart, her desire for a child, and her willingness to dedicate that child to G-d, Eli promised her a son within the year. That child, of course, is Shmuel, Samuel, the prophet who led the Israelites and anointed both Saul and David.
Yesterday, together with friends from our Hebron office, we visited ancient Shilo. We are in the process of planning a major upgrade of the Hebron Heritage museum in Beit Hadassah. One of the facets of the renovated museum will be a video/sound and light show, telling the story of Hebron and all its magnificent history to the multitudes who visit this holy city.
The Ancient Shilo organization has recently concluded production of a new presentation about Shilo and the Tabernacle. We were invited to a sneak-preview, allowing us to learn from their experience.
A tower, housing the auditorium, is surrounded by archeological sites and excavations. At the entrance to the tower is a Mikvah, a pool for ritual purification, probably dating to the 2nd Temple era.
But the most amazing view is that of the site of the Tabernacle itself. Presently, archeologists believe they have discovered the actual place where this sanctuary rested for almost four centuries. We were told that fossilized burnt raisins, discovered at the site, have been dated to the exact time when the Tabernacle was burnt down and destroyed just over 3,000 years ago.
Seeing this wondrous site and realizing its illustrious history and significance to the history of the Jewish people in Israel, is literally breathtaking.
But the best was yet to come. Sitting in the small auditorium, overlooking the Tabernacle through glass windows, the presentation began. In just over 13 minutes, we witnessed a living, breathing experience of our heritage. Watching this amazing production, I felt like I was there, living my way through hundreds of years of history. And I wasn’t the only one who shed a tear as Hannah pleaded with G-d for a child.
The Tel Shiloh – Ancient Shilo organization has actually renewed, at this site, Hannah’s prayer. Not too long ago 4,000 women participated in a special program at this site, called “Hannah’s Prayer.”
After seeing the production, I can only hope that the program we put together here in Hebron, is as powerful, real and effective as this one. And of course, I highly recommend visiting this special, unique site and program.
At this time of the year, approaching Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, it is customary to write about and speak about ‘Tshuva,’ that is, repentance. There are numerous types of repentance. Each and every individual should, and must, make an accounting of his or hers deed and actions over the past year, searching out what has to be patched up and fixed over the coming year.
But it’s not enough to practice personal atonement. We must also, as a people, as a nation, put ourselves back together.
Actually the word ‘tshuva’ is rooted in the word, ‘shuv,’ which means ‘return.’ We have to return to ourselves. Any deviation from our real selves is a problem, needing to be resolved. I personally believe that the first step of tshuva, return, is coming home, coming back to Israel, where Jews belong.
But being ‘here’ is not only Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beer Sheva. Being ‘here’ is Jerusalem, Hebron, Shilo, and Beit El. Being ‘here’ means understanding that this is our home, the home of Joshua, Eli, Shmuel, and David. These are our roots, these are our past, these are our present, these are our future. If you cut off the roots of a tree, what happens to the tree?
This must be our national accounting. Our tshuva is to stop speaking about Eretz Yisrael as ‘palestine,’ and rather, to recognize all of our land as an integral, essential, official, part of the State of Israel. Rather than negotiate away and abandon our birthright, we must renew, revitalize, and relive our gift, for our land, Eretz Yisrael, truly is a Divine gift.
Anyone walking the hallowed ground of the ancient Tabernacle in Shilo can surely sense such sacredness.
Happy New Year, an easy fast, and Gmar Hatima tova.