This week we are reintroduced to arguably the most important person in the History of the Jewish People, and that is Abraham. We learn about this individual who left his hometown and comfortable surroundings at the age of 75 to an unknown land. When he arrives in the rocky and barren land of Canaan, he experiences a closeness to G-d as he had never felt. It was an incredible manifestation of G-d’s presence, which was unparalleled to any other location on earth.
G-d than communicated to Abraham that his descendants will inherit this auspicious land. That is the beginning of our people’s story in which G-d declared that the descendants of Abraham would be the chosen people. He also promised Israel would be their homeland in which its people can connect to G-d and his Torah in a spiritually conducive environment. Abraham and his wife Sarah, are interred in the Machpelah Cave in Hebron, and Jews continue to travel there to seek that closeness to G-d.
A fair question would be, has that promise panned out, and in what way? I recall the beginning of the History of Jews by Paul Johnson, who writes the following:
Hebron has great and venerable beauty. It provides peace and stillness often to be found in ancient sanctuaries. But its stones are mute witnesses to constant strife and four millennia of religious and political disputes. It has been in turn a Hebrew shrine, a synagogue, a Byzantine basilica, a mosque, a crusader church, and then a mosque again. Herod the Great enclosed it with a majestic wall, which still stands, soaring nearly 40 feet high, composed of massive hewn stones, some of them 23 feet long. Saladin adorned the shrine with a pulpit. Hebron reflects the long, tragic history of the Jews and their unrivaled capacity to survive their misfortunes. David was anointed king there. When Jerusalem fell, the Jews were expelled and it was settled by Edom. It was conquered by Greece, then by Rome, converted, plundered by the Zealots, burned by the Romans, occupied in turn by Arabs, Franks and Mamluks. From 1266 the Jews were forbidden to enter the Cave to pray. They were permitted only to ascend seven steps by the side of the eastern wall. On the fourth step they inserted their petitions to God in a hole bored 6 feet 6 inches through the stone. Even so, the petitioners were in danger. In 1518 there was a fearful Ottoman massacre of the Hebron Jews. But a community of pious scholars was re-established. It maintained a tenuous existence, composed, at various times, of orthodox Talmudists, of students of the mystic kabbalah, and even of Jewish ascetics, who flogged themselves cruelly until their blood spattered the hallowed stones. Jews were there to welcome, in turn, the false Messiah, Shabbetai Zevi, in the 1660s, the first modern Christian pilgrims in the eighteenth century, secular Jewish settlers a hundred years later, and the British conquerors in 1918. The Jewish community, never very numerous, was ferociously attacked by the Arabs in 1929. They attacked it again in 1936 and virtually wiped it out. When Israeli soldiers entered Hebron during the Six Day War in 1967, for a generation not one Jew had lived there. But a modest settlement was re-established in 1970. Despite much fear and uncertainty, it has flourished. So when the historian visits Hebron today, he asks himself: where are all those peoples which once held the place? Where are the Canaanites? Where are the Edomites? Where are the ancient Hellenes and the Romans, the Byzantines, the Franks, the Mamluks and the Ottomans? They have vanished into time, irrevocably. But the Jews are still in Hebron.
Four thousand years later, G-d’s promise to Abraham is still being realized. Let us never lose sight of this gift to us.
Have a Great Shabbos,
Rabbi Yaakov Fisch
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