FROM THE RABBI’S DESK – VAYECHI: דבר הרב
Having recently returned from Israel after attending an Israeli rabbinical conference and the Steinman-Jaffe wedding (mazal tov to Noam and Leora and their families), I am pondering on our trip to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the burial places of our forefathers and mothers except for Rachel, who is buried in Beit Lechem.
Though Rivka and I have visited the Cave numerous times over the years, this visit is special, as our group receives permission to enter the Ulam Yitzhak, closed to Jews except on Chol Hamoed. The room which primarily serves as a Moslem place of prayer contains the hole in the floor which leads to the pathway to the actual Cave below ground. Though the Arab guards watch diligently that Jews offer no prayers at this site, it does not prevent the visitor from muttering some sentence of Psalms. Our group leader, Noam Arnon, who has lived in Hebron since 1968, is able to sneak into his presentation to us the sentence of Shema Yisrael. He enthralls his listeners with his accounts of what lies literally below the surface of this large room which serves as the central location for Moslem prayer.
I am standing within three feet of this guarded hole which leads not only to the graves of our ancestors but to the entrance to the Garden of Eden according to tradition. I am taken with the sanctity and solidarity of the moment understanding fully our guide’s explanation as to why we are supposed to have special Kavannah or intention when we pray the opening paragraph of the Amida which is called Avot. We feel our connection to our ancestors even though we have never known them on a personal level.
In our parsha this week, Jacob twice admonishes his children to ensure that his remains are to be taken to the burial cave in Hebron. He describes the Cave to them in great detail, so that there should be no misconception as to where that burial place is located. The Ramban points out as well that Jacob’s command to his children regarding his burial in the Cave also implicitly indicates that with his interment there, no other people shall be buried there. This directive precludes Esau from being buried there, and by extension Joseph and his brothers and their families.
The Cave of Machpelah retains a special place in Jewish history and in our holy writings. It should be noted that the opportunity to stand in the room of Ulam Yitzhak standing near the entrance of the Cave is a moving experience spiritually. The words of our Torah regarding this sacred site, and the words of our rabbis concerning this area, take on special meaning when one is actually there.