Monday, November 16, 2009

The Modern Miracle called Hebron

The Modern Miracle called Hebron
November 16, 2009

The Modern Miracle called Hebron
Most people view miracles as 'one-time' events, such as the parting of the sea during the Exodus from Egypt, or the sun standing still at Givon. But I have news for anyone who so thinks: there are miracles that are continuous acts of G-d.
A number of examples come to mind, but at the present, the phenomenon at the forefront of my thoughts is none other than: Hebron.
A few months ago we marked the eightieth anniversary of the 1929-Tarpat riots and massacre which decimated Hebron's age-old Jewish community. A small group which returned in 1931 was expelled by the British in 1936. Who could have imagined that Jews would ever return to this holy city, especially following the Jordanian occupation during the War of Independence?
Even in the midst of the Six Day War the Israeli government attempted to prevent Jordanian participation in the battles, but Hussein, carried away by is own propaganda, began shelling Jerusalem. The result was Israel's liberation of the Wall, Temple Mount and all of the holy city, as well as Judea and Samaria, the heartland of the Jewish people.
Who would have believed that an ancient city such as Hebron could be repopulated by Jews, a city left vacant of Jews following the horrid 1929 massacre? But it happened.
At no time in the history of the world has a people been able to literally 'return home' following a 2,000 year old exile. No people has ever been able to gather in the exiled, from the four corners of the earth. No people has ever been able to reestablish an ancient language, the tongue of the sacred, the letters and words of the Torah. This is not only renewal. It is rebirth. It is a stage in the revival of the dead.
But the miracle does not stop there. After all, an infant does have life, an infant can breath and eat, but little more than that. An infant must also survive, living long enough to grow, learn, and develop, physically and mentally. That can be more difficult than the birth itself.
But so it has been. No lack of difficulties, acting as stumbling blocks, have stood in the way of advancement. A plague, a disease called anti-Semitism, an inbred hate of Judaism and Israel, struck immediately, attempting to stamp out the newborn life at its very inception. Yet that affliction was unable to wipe out the inner yearnings that had lived within the souls of the almost lifeless body called Israel. Israel's essence refused to yield, breaking through the eggshell of infancy to being a full-fledged global presence.
Despite attempts, again and again, of that potentially fatal affliction, Israel overcame. And it was only natural that the sign of triumph not only be progressing forward, but also, no less important, reaching back to the beginnings of our existence, to the roots of our collective soul, from which we evoked the strength to keep alive for thousands of years, from which we were able arouse the inner fortitude to negate the deadly viruses attempting to destroy us.
It was only natural that the Jewish people would return to Hebron, to Ma'arat HaMachpela, to the original city of David, to the cradle of civilization, to the foundation of our existence.
Over the years attempts continue to cut off, or renounce those roots. To no avail.This past Saturday over 20,000 people compressed themselves into one huge body of Am Yisrael, in the holy city of Hebron, to take part in 'Shabbat Hebron,' when we read in the Torah how Abraham paid Efron the Hittite 400 silver shekels ($750,000 today) for a field and a cave at the edge of that field.
It is no small feat to host 20,000 people for 24 hours, but residents of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, working together, did just that. And these 20,000 people joined the over 150,000 Jews and gentiles who visited Hebron during the holiday season. And these tens of thousands joined the half a million who visit Hebron each year.
But the trials continue. We can never stop and rest, not even for a moment. The infectious bacteria are still at work. Next Saturday night Hebron's US affiliate, the Hebron Fund, is hosting its annual dinner event in New York. This year's occasion has taken a unique turn, being held at Citi Stadium in Queens, new home of the New York Mets. For the past few weeks germs have been eating away at the Mets front office, trying to convince them to cancel the event. However those courageous people refuse to kowtow to them and call off the dinner.
But that is not enough. We must ensure that hundreds and hundreds show up at Citi Stadium, next Saturday night (call 718-677-6886 now for details or click here ) to prove to those still trying to delete us from the map: Hebron is here to stay!
A friend asked me how we can associate with the Mets; after all, they are 'losers.' I had two responses: first of all, I remember the 1969 Mets, the Miracle Mets with Tom Seaver, Buddy Harrelson and all the others, who took the World Series in 5 from Baltimore. With them I can certainly relate.
But much more importantly, the Mets have proven that they are the real 'winners,' denying attempts to prevent Hebron from celebrating at their stadium. Moral victories are much more impressive than 'games won.'
The Mets have had their miracles, and so has Hebron. Together, with all of you, we will unite to continue to prove to the world: Hebron, Meaz u'leTamid – Hebron, Now and Forever.
See you Saturday night at Citi Stadium!
**Correction:Please note the following corrections dealing with my article posted last Thursday night, titled: Hebron: The Dream and the Reality: Naomi Paiss, from the New Israel Fund- Adalah-New York has no relationship at all with the civil rights group Adalah in Israel. The New Israel Fund does not give a penny to Adalah-New York, we have no relationship with them at all. We do fund Adalah in Israel, which has won many victories on behalf of an Arab minority that, by the Israeli government's own admission, has been discriminated against since the birth of the state. And from another reader: Adalah-NY is not related in any way to Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, the organization referred to by NGO Monitor. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hebron-Shabbat Chaye Sarah: The Dream and the Reality

Hebron-Shabbat Chaye Sarah: The Dream and the Reality
November 13, 2009

Sometimes the past and the present really blend together. As right now, the eve of Shabbat Hebron – the Shabbat when we read during the weekly Torah portion about Abraham’s purchase of Ma’arat HaMachpela almost 4,000 years ago.
How so?
A few weeks ago a fascinating explanation about Hebron and Ma’arat HaMachpela come to my attention. Usually when speaking about this site to visitors, I refer to it as the 2nd holiest site to the Jewish people in all the world, second only to Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This is, by all means, the truth. However, in Judaism, there can be defined two different kinds of sanctity. The first is as we find in Jerusalem and in the area of Temple Mount, where the ‘holiness’ has actual significance. For example, the sanctity of Temple Mount is so intense, that there are areas where it is forbidden for people to access. During the days of the first and second Temple, the Kodesh haKodeshim, the holy of holies, was totally off-limits excepting one day of the year, that day being Yom Kippur, and then it was accessible to only one person, that being the “High Priest” – the Cohen HaGadol. And it was known that should he even think impure thoughts while inside the Holy of Holies, he would not exit alive. For that reason, before entering this inner sanctum of the Temple, a rope was tied on to his body, which could be used to pull him out should he die inside.

On the other hand, there is a sanctity such as in Hebron; a holiness that does not have such actual implications, but spiritually can be conveyed of as ‘holy.’

So I thought. However, Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, wrote differently. In a book titled “Shmuot HaRaiya” he presents the following thought:
He defines two types of holiness or Kedusha; the first being actual and the other, potential. Of course, he goes into some detail explaining these terms and exemplifying them. But the bottom line is quite clear. When HaShem told Abraham to ‘get up and walk the land, the length and width of it, Abraham quickly makes his way to Hebron, because here was revealed the potential holiness of Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Kook says, “Eretz Yisrael was not sanctified ‘in potential’ except by the bodies of the Forefathers and their burial, and by interring Sarah in the beginning in Eretz Yisrael, the potential sanctity was established and this holiness established the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael for eternity.”  Of course, the ‘actual’ sanctity is developed and found in Jerusalem at the site of Beit HaMikdash, the Temple.

This is why David began his reign in Hebron, for seven and a half years,  first to immerse himself in the roots of the potential Kedusha, prior to actualizing this holiness in Jerusalem.
Rav Kook’s principle student, Rav Yaakov Moshe Harlap, in the first chapter of his classic work Maayanie HaYishua, writes that the value of the expectation of salvation (potential) is greater that the (actual) salvation itself because the expectation, in potential, is never-ending, whereas the actual salvation itself, at each stage, is limited.

In other words, the holiness of Hebron is real, and no less significant than that of Jerusalem. We know that these two cities are intrinsically bonded. Temple Mount was declared off-limits in 1267 by Marmaluk emperor Bibers, as was Ma’arat HaMachpela, by the same person at the same time.

In 1929 we lost Hebron. In 1948 we lost the old city of Jerusalem and with that, access to the Wall. In June, 1967 we liberated Jerusalem and the next day, Hebron. Hebron was divided in 1997; ever since, Israeli Prime Ministers have offered to divide Jerusalem. Only by the grace of G-d has this been prevented.

How does this fit into today’s reality?

Next Saturday night Hebron’s United States organization, the Hebron Fund, will hold its annual dinner reception in New York. This year, as a change of pace, rather than conduct the event at  a Manhattan hotel, the dinner will be hosted at Citi Stadium in Queens, new home of baseball’s New York Mets. A week or so ago a group of left wing American organizations, led by Adalah-New York, an Arab-loving, Israel-hating organization, began a campaign to have the Mets cancel the Hebron event at their stadium.

Who is Adalah? According to its web site, they are the “Coalition for Justice in the Middle East” They “began organizing actions in response to the escalation of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip at the end of June and the subsequent Israeli war on Lebanon in July 2006. Adalah-NY has carried out numerous street protests and educational forums focusing on Israel's assault on Gaza and war against Lebanon, the US' threatened attack on Iran, …It is a grassroots strategic alliance of concerned organizations and individuals in New York, formed to demand an immediate, unconditional, and permanent end to U.S. and U.S.-sponsored Israeli aggression in the Middle East. In response to the continuing injustices committed by the U.S. and Israel, which constitute gross violations of international law, Adalah-NY stands with the people of the Middle East in their demands for justice, equality, democracy, and respect for human rights.”

Together with Gush Shalom in Israel, Jews against occupation in the US, and other rabidly anti Israel groups, Adalah New York   and others are making a major effort to prevent Hebron’s annual event next week. But they have failed. The Mets have heroically decided not to bow to these racist demands to cancel Hebron’s dinner.

What does this have to do with all the above-related material? Why are these groups so anti Hebron? Why do they classify Hebron’s Jewish population as being almost synonymous with monsters? Very simply, they can sense the Keddusha, the sanctity that emanates from this holy city.  They know that the key to all of Eretz Yisrael lies with the roots, site where it all started, where the potential for continuous Jewish settlement in all of Israel is never-ending, somehow understanding that the path to Jerusalem runs through Hebron.

A Cohen, a priest in the Temple would, early every morning, climb high and look south. His compatriots would ask, has the sun yet risen, even as far away as in Hebron? If he answered affirmatively, the day’s activities could commence. However, if not, they had to wait. In other words, if it is dark in Hebron, it is dark in Jerusalem. If it is light in Hebron, it is light in Jerusalem. And the light shining forth from Jerusalem, radiates throughout the entire world. And should G-d forbid, it should be ‘dark’ in Jerusalem, that darkness permeates throughout all of mankind.

It is those forces of evil, those forces of darkness, who so desire to extinguish the lights of Hebron and the lights of Jerusalem and the lights shining throughout the world. But it is not to be. From the month preceding Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, through the month and a half holiday season, over 150,000 people flocked to Hebron. Tomorrow we expect to host some 25,000 people in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, coming to participate in reading how Abraham paid 400 silver shekels (today valued at $750,000!) for the Caves of Machpela from Efron the Hittite, where it happened, almost 4,000 years ago. Each and every one of these people is another light, a flame emitting a beam of eternity, embodying the potential holiness that begin with Sarah’s burial, some four millennium ago.

That potential still exists today, and is being actualized by the continued flow of Jews to Israel, to Jerusalem, to Hebron, and throughout the rest of the Land. This is our potential; this is our actuality. This is our dream, and this is our reality. Happy Shabbat Hebron.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ma'arat HaMachpela: Jewish Roots

Ma'arat HaMachpela: Jewish Roots

Published: Thursday, November 12, 2009 5:54 PM
A connection between Jerusalem and Hebron.

The Torah teaches us that Avraham, sitting outside his tent following his Brit Milah, seeing three men approaching, ran to fix them a meal.

When he entered the sheep pen to prepare fresh meat, a calf ran away. As Avraham chased the calf, the animal suddenly disappeared. Continuing to search, Avraham saw a cave in the distance and approached, thinking that 
Where did Avraham learn the trait of chesed?
perhaps the calf had run inside. Arriving at the cave and peering in, Avraham saw a bright light glowing from deep within. Entering to investigate, walking deeper and deeper into the cave, Avraham discovered the tombs of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. He also smelled fragrances from the Garden of Eden.  

How did Adam and Eve arrive at this site? It is written that following their exile from the Garden of Eden they wished to return, but they had no idea where it was. They searched and searched until they reached a point where they could smell the exquisite fragrances of that unique place. There, the first man began digging and dug a cave within a cave, until a voice from the heavens forbade him to dig further. There he buried his wife Eve and later he too was interred there (according to the Zohar).

Realizing the sanctity of the site, Avraham left the cave, desiring to purchase it. According to the Midrash (Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer), he approached the Jebusites and requested to purchase from them the cave. (The Midrash specifies that the Jebusites and the Hittites were both from the same tribe, Paleshet.) They answered Avraham, "We know that your future offspring will try to conquer our home city (Jerusalem). If you agree to prevent them from conquering Jerusalem, we will sell you the cave."

Avraham agreed and signed a contract which was hung on statues outside the gates of Jerusalem. There are commentators who hold that Joshua did not conquer Jerusalem when he entered Israel due to Avraham's agreement. Centuries later, King David purchased the Temple Mount from the Jebusites only after he destroyed these statues.

Did Avraham really agree to relinquish Jerusalem for Hebron? No. Avraham realized that in order to attain the sanctity of Jerusalem, it was necessary to begin at the foundations of civilization, at the point which joins this world to another world, to the Garden of Eden. Starting here, at the cave, the foundations of the world, they could then progress slowly, until finally reaching the holiness of Jerusalem. This is similar to "Jacob's ladder", of which it is written that the top of the ladder reached the heavens but the legs of the ladder were firmly entrenched on the ground.

Where is a connection between Jerusalem and Hebron, site of these caves discovered by Avraham, called Ma'arat HaMachpela? The Talmud says, in the tractate Yoma, that every day, before beginning work in the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple, the priests would look out and ask, "Has the sun yet risen in the east, even as far as Hebron?" If the answer was positive, work would commence. If not, if it was still dark in Hebron, the priests in Jerusalem would have to wait.

Very likely, the merit by which Avraham earned discovery of Ma'arat HaMachpelais due to his desire and willingness to fulfill the positive precept of hachnasat orchim, "hosting guests", despite the very hot weather and the pain he experienced three days after his Brit Milah. This reflects Avraham's primary trait, that of chesed, or total, unrelenting loving-kindness.

Where did Avraham learn the trait of chesed? It would seem, from HaShem, from G-d Himself. In our prayers, which we repeat three times daily, we say, "the great, strong, awesome G-d, the supreme G-d." What would we expect to follow? Perhaps, 'the G-d who created heavens and earth', or 'who created Man'? No. We continue, "[G-d] who practices fine chesed and remembers the chesed of the Forefathers." This is what Avraham learned from
Each site has levels within levels.
HaShem. And this is the pillar of Ma'arat HaMachpela - chesed.
This is Avraham's primary trait, that of chesed, as it is written, "He bestowed chesed to Avraham." Why especially to Avraham? It is written, "A world of chesed will be created." In other words, creation of the world was dependant on total chesed, without any restrictions. Later, rules were established and thechesed was limited, borders were implemented. (So it is that Yitzhak's trait isgevurah, which represents the ability to live with restrictions, an enclosing, an implementation of constraints, and the opposite of chesed.)

Why was Avraham's trait chesed? His existence in the world and his revelation of one G-d was as the recreation of the world anew, the seeds of the birth of Am Yisrael, a time necessitating total chesed, as was during the time of Adam and Eve. And so it was that Avraham was merited to be the first person to discover their final resting place, the entrance to the Garden of Eden.  

There are different levels of revelation and of recognizing HaShem. There is a superficial recognition, but also a deeper appreciation.

In Israel there is Jerusalem and Hebron - Beit HaMikdash and Ma'arat HaMachpelaBeit HaMikdash, the Temple, is open to all, high upon a hill. Ma'arat HaMachpela is a cave, hidden from all eyes, inner. Beit HaMikdash extends outward. Ma'arat HaMachpela extends inward. One to the heavens and one to the depths of the earth. 

One bursts out and the other, directed towards our roots.  

Of course, each site has levels within levels. Beit HaMikdash has a section called Kodesh, "holy" and a more restricted area called Kodesh HaKodeshim, "the Holy of Holies". Ma'arat HaMachpela has two caves, an outer cave and an inner cave. 

Why then is the supreme holiness in Jerusalem and not in Hebron? This is the way of the world: "In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was filled with tohu v'vohu ('confusion')." The Torah continues with incidents 'on earth,' that which is revealed. The heavens remain 'hidden' and untouched.

With that, it should be noted that the final goal, the full redemption, is return to the era of the Garden of Eden, before Man's original sin. 
All may view that which is revealed, but revelation of the hidden is dependant on G-d, on His chesed, His willingness to allow entrance into 'the arena of the hidden'. In other words, Avraham's discovery of Ma'arat HaMachpela is an example of how chesed begets chesed (i.e., an example of mida k'neged mida - "an attribute begets an attribute"). 
We know of four couples buried at Ma'arat HaMachpela: Adam and Eve, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzhak and Rivka, Ya'akov and Lea. However, it is written that there are actually five couples buried at Ma'arat HaMachpela, three 'revealed' and two 'hidden'. The 'revealed' three are the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. The 'hidden' are Adam and Eve and Moshe (Moses) and Tzipporah (attributed to Sefer HaTemunah in the name of Rabbi Nechunia HaKana and Rabbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol).

What is Moshe's connection to Ma'arat HaMachpela? The Torah writes that Moshe was very humble; he was most humble of all men. Humility is a trait reflecting selflessness and concealment. Moshe brought Torah to the people of Israel and received no reward. He was as a slave and suffered, despite his efforts on behalf of the Israelites. This reflects the trait of chesed. What person would be more suitable to unify with his roots than Moshe?
This is the secret of Ma'arat HaMachpela.

In the Torah it is written (in Hebrew) Ma'arat Sde HaMachpela ("the cave in the field of Machpela"). The initials of these three words (in Hebrew), Mem, Shin and Hay, combine to spell Moshe. Jerusalem and Hebron blend and unify. Torah - the rules, the boundaries - and the tablets of the Ten Commandments, are found in Jerusalem. Gevurah - the trait of Yitzhak; Akedat Yitzhak occured on Har HaMoriah, site of Beit HaMikdash.

The chesed, the full loving-kindness without restriction, the trait of Avraham, is in Hebron. The lights of Hebron and the lights of Jerusalem merge to create a unity of spirituality which imbues the Jewish people (Ya'akov-Yisrael - the unity ofchesed and gevurah), the revealed and the hidden, this is the secret of Ma'arat HaMachpela, a unity which cannot be, and never will be, 'disengaged'.