A few days ago, speaking to a group of young adults, one of the people asked me what’s my motivation to live in Hebron. My answer contained a few elements.
Usually my first stop on tours is Tel Rumeida, a great place to start. Because this neighborhood is actually ancient Tel Hebron. If Ma’arat HaMachpela is where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried, this is where they lived. Two walls, one 4,500 years old, dated to the era of Noah, and another, 3,700 years old, from the times of Abraham and Sarah, ensconce a stairwell, over 4,000 years old. We are almost 100% sure that our Forefathers walked these stairs.
Today, the stairs reach the only road accessing this neighborhood. Archeologists have explained to us that under that road, at the end of the stone stairs, are probably the Gates to the ancient city of Hebron.
This site is, for me, probably one of the most important places, not only in Hebron, but in all of Israel, and in the world. Why? Tomorrow, together with literally tens of thousands here in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, we will read in the Torah how Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago, purchased the Caves of Machpela for us, his children. TheTorah states twice, specifically, exactly where this transaction occurred, when he paid 400 silver shekels (today valued at $700,000) to Efron the Hittite. That place is, the gates to the city.
Standing with groups, looking at this spot, I tell them that it is very possible, even likely, that this is where Abraham purchased Machpela. And what I always find amazing isn’t so much that Abraham was there then, but that we are still here today. How many people can say, after 4,000 years, this is where they began, and where they continue to live today?
This is our roots, the roots of Judaism, the roots of Monotheism. Any person, any group of people, any religion that professes a belief in one G-d, this is where it all began. Quite literally, this is the beginning of humanity as we know it today, the beginning of the end of human sacrifice, of a belief in the one and only Creator of the Universe, our G-d. It is difficult to get closer to our roots than at this very place.
Later we visit the actual site of those caves, known as Ma’art HaMachpela. Here groups hear the stories, legends, Biblical and Rabbinic accounts of this place’s sanctity. It is difficult perhaps, to comprehend this is the tomb, not only of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, but also of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. Abraham, it is written, upon discovering these tombs, was able to inhale and smell the unique fragrances of the Garden of Eden.
Here, so it is written, our souls ascend to the world above, after they depart our physical body.
Not the seventh wonder of the world, rather the first wonder of the world.
But perhaps, the most incredible part of the story, again, isn’t then, but today. For this singular place was inaccessible to Jews and Christians for hundreds of years, seven centuries. For seven hundred years no one, not of Moslem faith, was allowed inside the 2,000 year old Herodian monument built on top of the caves.
Only in 1967, following the six-day war and our return home, home to Hebron, were we once again able to visit, pray, identify with our holy relatives, at this very exceptional site.
How many peoples of the world remember what they lost, centuries ago? How many peoples strive, pray, and even die, to return to their roots, their holy sites, the core of their essence? And how many succeed?
But it doesn’t end there. Not too many years ago, January, 1997, most of Hebron was taken from us, abandoned to our enemy. During negotiations, leading to the signing and implementation of the Hebron accords, the Arabs demanded control of Machpela. They have stated, time and again, that should they retain power here, it will again be off-limits to anyone not of the Islamic faith.
True, we had then, and still do, have many disagreements with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. But when it came to Machpela, he said no. The holy place remained under Israeli control. That is why some 800,000 people of all religions, from around the world, can visit here annually.
Again, such talks are underway. But again, a few days, ago, Netanyahu issued a special ‘blessing,’ leading up to ‘A night to honor Hebron’ in the Knesset and this Shabbat.
“It is no coincidence that the government of Israel included the Cave of Machpela in its list of National Heritage Sites. Hebron, like Jerusalem, has the power to unite Israel…My wish for you is that ‘Shabbat Hebron,’ with its thousands of participants, will deepen our affinity to the City of our Forefathers, to our Land and to our heritage.”
Those Jews, who worship three times a day, recite a special blessing, speaking of the resurrection of the dead. Today’s Jewish community, living at Tel Rumeida-Tel Hebron, Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, worshiping at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the close to one million people who visit Hebron every year, are all living examples of rebirth, resuscitation of the dead.
Who was here? What was here? Who could have possibly imagined that we would ever really come back, and LIVE here again? Who could have dreamt of a night to honor Hebron, in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset? A dream, a dream come true.
We are here: for all of those who lived here and died here, for all those who dreamed but could only dream, and for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, so that they too will be able to be here.
We are but links in a chain, the beginning of which started 4,000 years ago, and the end of which is eternity. This is what will be going through my head tomorrow, celebrating Shabbat Chayei Sarah in Hebron, with tens of thousands from Israel and around the world.
We are here. To stay. Forever.
If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.