Tens of Thousands Ascend to Hevron to Relive Biblical History

Tens of Thousands of Jews will ascend to Hevron for the annual reading of <i>Chayei Sarah</i>, the Torah portion which records the Jewish patriarch Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of the Patriarchs.

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Alex Traiman, | updated: 11:52

Each year tens of thousands arrive at the site where the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are buried, for the annual reading to retell and relive Biblical history.

According to the Torah, Abraham made the purchase in front of a large local community gathering, for an exorbitant price, to serve as the burial ground for his deceased wife Sarah and his Jewish descendants.

Genesis Chapter 23
And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hevron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.

And Abraham arose from before his dead, and he spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, "I am a stranger and an inhabitant with you. Give me burial property with you, so that I may bury my dead from before me." And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, "Listen to us, my lord; you are a prince of God in our midst; in the choicest of our graves bury your dead. None of us will withhold his grave from you to bury your dead."

And Abraham arose and prostrated himself to the people of the land, to the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, "If it is your will that I bury my dead from before me, listen to me and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar. That he may give me the Machpelah (double) Cave, which belongs to him, which is at the end of his field; for a full price let him give it to me in your midst for burial property."

Now Ephron was sitting in the midst of the sons of Heth, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth, of all those who had come into the gate of his city, saying, "No, my lord, listen to me. I have given you the field, and the cave that is in it, I have given it to you. Before the eyes of the sons of my people, I have given it to you; bury your dead."

And Abraham prostrated himself before the people of the land. And he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, "But, if only you would listen to me. I am giving the money for the field; take [it] from me, and I will bury my dead there."

And Ephron replied to Abraham, saying to him, "My lord, listen to me; a [piece of] land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is it between me and you? Bury your dead." And Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out to Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, accepted by the merchant.

And so the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, facing Mamre, was established (as Abraham's possession). [This included] the field and the cave that was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within its entire border around.

[It was] to Abraham as a possession before the eyes of the sons of Heth, in the presence of all who had come within the gate of his city. And afterwards, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre, which is Hevron, in the land of Canaan. And the field and the cave within it were established to Abraham as burial property, [purchased] from the sons of Heth.

The Jewish community of Hevron is relatively small with only 1,000 residents and students living in the city currently populated by 150,000 Arabs. However, at certain times throughout the year, as many as 100,000 Jews arrive in Hevron to visit the celebrated Jewish monument located in the city.

“We are expecting tens of thousands of Jews to arrive here in Hevron this Shabbat, just several weeks after the conclusion of Sukkot, in which over 100,000 Jews came to the city,” according to Jewish community spokesman David Wilder.

“It shows the tremendous support the Jewish people have for the residents of Hevron, and reaffirms our commitment to live in this Biblical city,” Wilder says.

Yet with only permanent lodgings for 1,000 Jews, the yearly reading of Chayei Sarah (or the life of Sarah) stretches the limits of the small Jewish community’s hospitality, a trait for which the patriarch Abraham was renowned.

“People sleep anywhere and everywhere,” Wilder says. “The weather is nice, and there will be lots of tents. Plus, literally anyplace there is a space to put a mattress or sleeping bag will be used.”

The annual Shabbat reading will feature many rabbis and lecturers addressing topics relating to the Torah and the Jewish people. In addition, this weekend is one of the few times during the year the large room memorializing Isaac in the Cave of the Patriarchs will be open to Jewish worshippers. “Isaac’s room” houses the tunnels which lead several stories down to the underground burial caves. The room is used throughout the year by Muslims as a mosque.

Yet the climax of the Shabbat will be the Torah reading itself, in the exact spot where Biblical history took place approximately 4,000 years ago.

While Hevron is often in the news due to security or political concerns, the Hevron community does not expect any incidents at this peaceful annual gathering. “The only challenge will be how to get tens of thousands of Jews home safely following Shabbat,” Wilder says.

Wilder contends that Hevron is always open throughout the year to every Jew in the world, “Anyone that is still able to come for Shabbat is absolutely invited, and whoever cannot make it this year, should begin planning now to be in Hevron this time next year or sometime in between.”