Ma?arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, is the second-holiest site to the Jewish people in the entire world, second only to Temple Mount in Jerusalem. There are, literally, no archeologists who disagree with the fact that this is the authentic site of the caves purchased by Abraham almost 4,000 years ago, in order to inter his beloved wife, Sarah. He too was buried here, as were Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah.
The building atop the caves was constructed over 2,000 years ago by Herod, when he was King of Judea. Herod was a blood-thirsty murderer, but he was also a builder, and build he did. Some of his more notable projects, besides Ma?arat HaMachpela, were Herodian, the palace located south-east of Jerusalem, not far from the Dead Sea, and the renovation of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Ma?arat HaMachpela was always one of the most revered sites in Judaism. When the Rambam, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, known as Maimonides, visited Hebron and Ma?arat HaMachpela, he declared the day a festivity to be celebrated by his family and offspring forever. For seven hundred years Ma?arat HaMachpela was off-limits to anyone not Muslim. From the year 1267, following the conquest of the city by the Mameluks during the Crusader Wars, until Hebron?s liberation in the 1967 Six-Day War, Jews (and I might add, Christians) could not enter the building. We were told that this holy site was a mosque, without any importance or significance to Jews, and that we could not pray inside. For many years Jews were allowed to pray outside, at an area remembered infamously as the ?7th step.? That was as far as we could go. Jews who attempted to climb any further were kicked, spat at, and threatened with death. Some were arrested. Until 1967.
Today, we are again told by our Arab neighbors that Ma?arat HaMachpela is insignificant to Jews. Hebron?s Deputy Arab Mayor, Kamal Dweck, told an interviewer that, should the Arabs again control the Ma?ara (which they call Misgad Ibrahimi ? the Abraham Mosque), Jews will be forbidden from entering because, ?it is a mosque, not a synagogue.? He said, ?Jews can go back and pray outside, but they cannot pray inside.?
We believe him. After all, look at Joseph?s Tomb in Shechem. According to Arafat?s signature on the Oslo Accords, Joseph?s Tomb was to be left under Israeli control, thereby allowing Jewish access to this sacred site. We all know what happened to Joseph?s Tomb. The problem is, though, not the Arabs. Their actions are to be expected. After all, they are the enemy. But what about the Jews? Why should Israelis ignore the importance of such spiritually important places? After having returned to Shechem during the present war, why was it necessary to again abandon this site to the terrorists? Why didn?t Israel assert its legitimate rights to stay at Joseph?s Tomb? Even according to those who favored again abandoning and withdrawing from these cities, why again abandon Joseph to the Arab terrorists?
Now, during these days of combat, when prayer is so vital, Ma?arat HaMachpela is being closed to Jewish visitors. Thousands of people, from Israel and around the world, have signed petitions, demanding that Ma?arat HaMachpela not be closed. With little success. A few days ago we were promised that the Ma?ara would be open from four o?clock until seven o?clock in the morning, and then for a half hour for afternoon and evening prayers, just before sunset. For the rest of the day, no one is allowed inside.
The reasons given for the closing are ludicrous. First of all, there is no reason in the world to waste so much money replacing the two sets of metal-detectors that we walk through while entering the building. It is a waste of tens of thousands of dollars. Even if they did have to be replaced, so what. That means that the building must be closed to Jews, as it was for 700 hundred years? Work can be accomplished and security maintained with the site remaining open. Can you imagine closing the Kotel – the Western Wall – to Jews? What would happen if Israel tried to close the Temple Mount to the Arabs? Yet in Hebron, closing Ma?arat HaMachpela is okay.
However, the real point is not the closing of the Ma?ara or the abandonment of Joseph?s Tomb. The real point is that too many people in Am Yisrael have lost sight of what we are and where we are. I participated in an Australian television talk show last week, and when addressing the so-called Jerusalem question, one of the Israeli women spoke of the ?idea? of Jerusalem, which did not necessarily include earth and rocks. Another woman, a school teacher, ready to relinquish all of eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to the terrorists said, ?How many people are you ready to sacrifice for a holy place?? When I responded, ?So let?s live in a virtual Israel; we?ll leave the state,? she replied, ?this is not a virtual Israel, it is a place where people can live and see some hope in their real life.?
I didn?t get a chance to answer her, but I would have asked, ?What exactly is a real life? Can you live a real life without your essence, without your soul?? Israel has a soul, an inner presence that kept us alive, as a people in exile, for 2,000 years. That presence, ?next year in Jerusalem,? fueled our spirits for two millennia. Hebron, Shechem, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, – Rachel?s Tomb, Joseph?s Tomb, Ma?arat HaMachpela, Temple Mount – this is our culture, our history and our future. For a people without a past have no future.
The alarm clock is ringing, but sometimes, when you are in a deep, deep sleep, you don?t hear it. Sometimes, when you try to turn it off, a few minutes later it surprises you and rings again, and again, and again, until you get out of bed. Only a people fast asleep can abandon Joseph?s Tomb, close Ma?arat HaMachpela, and leave the Temple Mount in the hands of the terrorists.
Let?s all of us wake up and get out of bed.