The day before Erev Yom Kippur, I was privileged to take part in a women’s trip to Chevron. I honestly can’t understand what came over me, but I did not feel uncomfortable walking around Chevron in a big group of women without a guard, not even one without a gun. I didn’t even think about it. Of course, maybe that had to do with the soldiers who were ubiquitous in the Israeli-controlled part of Chevron that we visited. As we traveled in our bulletproof bus, Mrs. Esti Kimche, a tour guide from Ramat Beit Shemesh, crystallized our appreciation for the holy city - not that any of us needed to be convinced.
As Jews, we have a special connection to Chevron. Dovid HaMelech’s capitol was in Chevron for seven years before he moved to Yerushalayim. And, of course, Me’arat HaMachpela, the burial place of Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, and Yaakov and Leah is in Chevron.
Me’arat HaMachpela is considered to be the gateway to Gan Eden. It says in the Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer that Adam was doing teshuvah for 130 years in order to get back to the place of pure connection with Hashem, which he had before he sinned. At one point, he reached a cave and saw a light. He instinctively knew that it was the light of Gan Eden. He then dug a burial place for himself and Chava. Once Adam and Chava were buried there, the light was hidden. It was discovered once again by Avraham when he was chasing a calf that he had wanted to serve to the angels who were his guests after he had his bris. Avraham also saw the light of where Adam and Chava were buried and decided that he, too, wanted to be buried there. B’nei Chet told Avraham that they would only be willing to sell him Me’arat HaMachpela if he would relinquish his connection to Yerushalayim. Avraham agreed to do this and for this reason, David HaMelech was not able to capture Yerushalayim right away.
The Talmud states that Calev, one of the meraglim (scouts) who Moshe sent to spy on Eretz Yisrael, wanted to daven that he shouldn’t get involved in the plot planned by the other spies, which was to speak negatively about Eretz Yisrael. Rather than going to daven at the even shesiya, the spot in Yerushalayim where the Beis Hamikdash would stand in the future, he chose to daven at Me’arat HaMachpela. In Yerushalayim, everything is visible. The Beis HaMikdash was above ground. There was what to destroy. In contrast, there is nothing to see in Chevron. All that is significant in Chevron is internal and hidden. There is nothing to destroy. Calev knew that the galus would start with the sin of the spies. He knew that our relationship with Hashem would be severed. He went to daven in Chevron because he knew that Chevron, which comes from the word “chibur”- bond, is the place where the bond between Hashem and us is unbreakable and eternal, as was promised to Avraham.
The guide told us about some of the modern history of Chevron. In 1929, the Arabs massacred the Jews and captured the city. During the Six-Day War in 1967, we recaptured the city. In the spring of 1968, Rabbi Moshe Levinger along with other Chevron activists rented the main hotel in Hebron from its Arab owner and then refused to leave. They wanted to bring Jewish presence back to Chevron and maintain access for the Jews to Me’arat HaMachpela. The government reluctantly allowed a few families and students to stay in Hebron if they would move into an army compound overlooking the city. The government assumed that the families would not be able to tolerate the difficult living conditions. But they didn’t realize how strong and determined these people were. Not only did the families not leave, but more families joined them. In 1971, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan allowed them to relocate to what became the settlement of Kiryat Arba.
Among those living in the compound and Kiryat Arba were Baruch and Sarah Nachshon and their children. Baruch was a Chassidic artist, some of whose paintings adorned the walls of my home growing up. The Nachshons had three more children while they were living in the compound. The bris of their son was the first one performed at Me’arat HaMachpela in over 700 years. In 1975, Baruch and Sarah tragically lost their 6-month-old son, Avraham Yedidya, to crib death. Baruch was out of town at the time and Sarah had no way to reach him. Sarah decided that she would bury her son in the ancient cemetery of Chevron where no Jew had been buried since the 1929 massacres. As she drove, Sarah was not deterred by the roadblocks that had been set up to prevent the Jews from reaching the cemetery. She got out of her car holding her baby wrapped in a sheet and began walking toward the cemetery. The upper echelons of the army radioed in and commanded that she be stopped. Sarah said that just like Avraham buried his wife, Sarah, in Chevron, she, Sarah, was going to bury her son, Avraham, in Chevron. Not only did the soldiers not stand in Sarah’s way, but they also joined the procession. Since then, the ancient cemetery in Chevron has been open to Jewish burial.
In 1911, The Hadassah Jewish Women’s Organization established its first clinic in Israel, which provided free medical care for all residents of Chevron - Jews and Arabs alike. It was housed in Beit Hadassah until the 1929 massacre. In 1979, some Israeli men tried several times to once again take possession of Beit Hadassah. Finally, Miriam Levinger led 15 mothers and their 35 children to the facility, where they squatted for a year without their husbands. They lived without electricity or running water but they established a school in the building and the children were happy. During this time, their husbands would stop by outside the facility on Friday nights on their way home from davening at Me’arat HaMachpela and would sing “Eishet Chayil.” The women wouldn’t leave the building because anyone who left was not permitted to return. One pregnant woman refused to leave the building to go deliver her baby in a hospital because she was worried that the authorities would not let her back in. In the end, an exception was made that she could go have her baby and then return to Beit Hadassah. She had her baby, named her Hadassah, and returned to the building.
We drove past Beit Hadassah and through the neighborhood of Avraham Avinu. The story is told that in the 1600s, the main shul in Chevron had trouble getting a minyan. A stranger came to be the tenth man. Before he could be invited to the home of one of the locals, he disappeared. In a dream, the host was told that the tenth man was Avraham Avinu. The shul came to be known as the Avraham Avinu shul and is still in use until this very day.
Today, Chevron is home to approximately a quarter-million Arabs. Three percent of the city belongs to the 80-100 Jewish families that live there. Part of the Arab area is open to Jews on Chol Hamoed, Tisha B’Av, and on Shabbat Chayei Sarah when thousands come to spend shabbos in Chevron. Then it is possible to visit the kever of Otniel ben Knaz, the first biblical judge.
We davened at the kever of Rus and Yishai (the father of David HaMelech). One of the mothers in our group brought her baby, who is a little kohen and not allowed to enter a cemetery. She had someone hold him in a different area so that she could daven at the kever. We took in the view of Me’arat HaMachpela and the old Slabodka Yeshiva in the distance.
Finally, we went to daven at Me’arat HaMachpela, the oldest structure in the world from the Roman period. Chevron is the place to tap into our connection to the Avos and Imahos. It is the bedrock of our connection to Hashem, where our teshuvah can bring us back to our original connection with Hashem. Their zechuyot (merits) should protect us.