In an hour or so I will be setting out to Chevron to enjoy Shabbat Chayei Sarah at the Cave of Machpela which was bought by Avraham Avinu 3,800 years ago.
Each time I go, more and more crowds flock to this unique celebration of Jewish history and heritage. Most welcome are the teenagers, many of whom come from secular homes with no experience of a real Shabbat.
The story of our people’s recovery of Machpela after 700 years was best told by the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defence Forces during the 1967 war.
Fresh from the liberation of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, he wanted to be among the first Jews to return to the ancient city of the patriarchs. Holding the rank of general, he joined the armed forces stationed at the recently captured Etzion Bloc, on their way to Hebron. On the evening of 28 Iyar, before retiring for the night, he asked to be wakened when the soldiers began their march into Hebron the following day.
The next morning he awoke, only to find himself alone with his driver. Realizing that he had been left behind, he ordered his driver to begin the 20-minute journey into Hebron, expecting to meet the rest of the army enroute. Rabbi Goren thought it peculiar that he hadn’t encountered any Israeli soldiers on the road and assumed that they had already secured the city in record time.
Driving into Hebron, he was greeted by the sight of white sheets fluttering from the windows and rooftops of Arab homes.
The Rabbi theorised that this must be fear of retaliation for their 1929 pogrom in which 67 Jews were massacred and many more wounded. Leaving his driver and clutching a Torah scroll, Rabbi Goren quickly made his way toward the Herodian walls which now surround Machpela; the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Once inside he blew the Shofar, just as he had done 24-hours earlier at the Western Wall.
Only afterwards did he discover that when he left the Etzion base, the rest of the forces were on the other side of the hill, making plans for the attack on Hebron. The army was astonished to find that their Chief Rabbi had single-handedly conquered a city of 80,000 Arabs. Jews had finally returned to Hebron and the sacred burial place of their patriarchs!
Even the secular David Ben Gurion acknowledged the importance of Chevron as: “the city to which came the first Hebrew about eight hundred years before King David, and we will make a great and awful mistake if we fail to settle Hebron, neighbor and predecessor of Jerusalem, with a large Jewish settlement, constantly growing and expanding, very soon. This will also be a blessing to the Arab neighbors. Hebron is worthy to be Jerusalem's sister.”
As genuinely holy to Muslim descendants of Abraham as it is to us, Machpela is a modern-day mosque. But for decades it has been shared with Jews for visits and prayer. By agreement Shabbat Chayei Sarah is one of the special days of the year when all sections are opened to Jewish pilgrims. What a shining example of what could be achieved for the Temple Mount with peaceful intent instead of murderous incitement.
Shabbat-Chayei-Sarah-Shalom to you all.
Next year, why not join us?