This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.
By: Samantha Hulkower
We read recently in the Torah portion of Chaya Sarah that Avraham buys a burial place for his deceased wife. He specifically sought out the Cave of Machpela. The Torah goes on to explain all the trouble Avraham encounters trying to negotiate the deal from what could be the first example of a shady used car salesman-type figure, Ephron. His name literally means dusty. It's like buying a carpet from someone named 'Shaggy'. Anyway, Avraham does his best to stay calm, even while Ephron is obviously trying to squeeze him for as much money as he can. Why did Avraham put up with this? Wasn't there anywhere else he could bury his beloved wife?
Obviously, there must be something special to this place. Meharat Hamachpela means 'The Cave of Doubles', which could be interpreted to be either that there are two sections to the cave, or it was a name given prophetically, to indicate all of the couples that were to be buried there. Not only is Sarah, and then Avraham, buried there, but also, Issac and Rivka, and finally Jacob and Leah. While it could be that they were just trying to make things easier for their descendants to visit them, again, this goes to show there is something special about this place, for almost all of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs (with the exception of Rachel) to be buried in the same place. In addition, Hevron is one of the four Holy Cities in Israel, each of which correlate to the four elements: Jerusalem/fire; Tzefat/air; Tiveria/water; and Hevron/earth (the connection to the earth being the fact that so many people so fundamental to the beginning of the Jewish religion are buried there).
I won't leave you in suspense any longer. First, according to the Zohar, Adam and Eve are buried there. That is as good a reason as any for the founders of the Jewish people to want their eternal resting place to be there. But there's more! According to the Midrash and the Zohar, the caves are the entrance to the Garden of Eden. The Matriarchs and Patriarchs supposedly aren't really 'buried there' but considered to be sleeping, and they awaken occasionally when the Jewish people are in trouble, to beseech G-d on their behalf. Having been to Hevron myself a number of times, I can tell you that there is something in the air there - it's a very intense place, very heavy, and you can feel that it is the City of Earth.
Over the years, as Israel was conquered by one leading world power after another, different structures were built on the cave, and expanded upon. Today it is a beautiful building that houses both a Mosque and Shul.
This time last year, along with many thousands of my closest Jewish friends, will be descending on Hevron, to camp out around the edifice constructed above the caves. It's a custom to come to Hevron for parshat Chaya Sara, to actually be in the place that the Torah is talking about. It's quite a special thing. Also, special rooms that are closed to Jews for most of the year are opened for this Shabbat, along with a handful of other days throughout the year.
It's quite a beautiful event - thousands and thousands of Jews from all over the world, different nationalities and religious levels, come to Hevron. The city spends weeks gearing up to accomodate all of the visitors, taking pleasure in being able to do the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, taking in guests. Many stay in the neighboring city of Kiryat Arba, as the Jewish community in Hevron is quite small. Quite a few, including myself, camp out on the lawns around the building. While, a lucky few hundred will be able to sleep in someone's home. One of my Rebbitzen's has a son who lives in Hevron, and she told me how the days before everyone comes, they empty all of the furniture out of the house, in order to sleep as many people as possible. Last year, they even had a guy sleep in the bathtub (by his own request)!