November 01, 2007
This morning I read an unusually positive and touching article about Hebron in the NRG (Ma’ariv newspaper) internet site. [http://tinyurl.com/2e2ye8] The article contrasts the usual texts citing the “violent, extremist, law-breaking Jewish settlers” who are preventing I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of Arabs from living a normal life due to their presence in Hebron.
Every once in a while it’s nice to sit back and enjoy a well-written, truthful article about the city of Abraham.
Approaching Shabbat Parshat Chaye Sarah I cannot help but reflect back to the founders of our People and wonder what they would say about all that is transpiring today.
I’ve no doubt that Abraham and Sarah would really enjoy participating in this week’s Shabbat events in Hebron. Tens of thousands will visit Hebron and Kiryat Arba, praying at Ma’arat HaMachpela, joining tours in English, Hebrew, and probably other languages too. The streets will be full, literally from sundown to sundown, with tents polka-dotting gardens, parks, and anywhere there are a few meters to throw down a sleeping bag or two. The thousands who have registered in advance will receive Shabbat meals, ready to be devoured. Probably during the days of our Matriarchs, registration wouldn’t have been necessary. Sarah, Rivka and Lea would probably have whipped up food for the multitudes without any fanfare. That is part of their legacy and part of our heritage. Such is the main trait of Abraham – chesed: abounding loving-kindness and good deeds.
This is the common conception of our Forefather Abraham. So too the Torah relates to him, both on a simple level and also on a much deeper spiritual plane. Jewish Kabbalah explains that Abraham is an embodiment of chesed and uses him to exemplify this trait.
However, it cannot be ignored that there is another side to our father Abraham – Avraham Avinu, also very much a part of his character, yet stressed less.
In Jewish mysticism, next on the list of traits, following chesed, lovingkindness, is gevura. Gevura can be defined in different ways. It means courage. But courage can take on many faces. For instance, our Sages teach us, “who is a gibor – he who is able to conquer his desires.” In other words, gevura can mean physical heroism, but it also connotates spiritual courageousness, in this case, being able to overcome. Overcoming demands tremendous inner strength. Whereas chesed is a seemingly outgoing trait, gevora can be the opposite, expressing an almost introverted characteristic.
Usually this trait is related to Avraham Avinu’s son, Yitzhak. In Jewish thought he represents the idea of gevura. But in truth, the holy Zohar teaches us that Avraham’s original personality reflected not chesed, rather Gevura.
Three brief examples: 1) When Avraham was informed that his nephew Lot was taken as a prisoner of war, he stopped everything he was doing, put together an army, and pursued those who had captured him. Only after prolonged warfare, when he defeated his enemy and rescued Lot, did he return home. And then, as is related in the Bible, he refused to take any financial reward for his efforts.
2) Last week we read how Avraham was commanded to take his son from Hebron to Jerusalem and offer him as a sacrifice to G-d on Har HaMoria – today known as Temple Mount – Har HaBayit.
Avraham’s entire life was built around the rejection of such human sacrifice and belief in one G-d. He had been promised that Yizchak would be his inheritor and continue teaching the world a monotheistic faith. Yet, when commanded by that same G-d who he so believed in to cut his son’s throat, he did not hesitate for a moment. Our Sages teach from the Bible Avraham’s quickness, his willingness to follow G-d’s orders immediately.
These two cases prove without any doubt Avraham’s gevura – his courage and heroism, both physically and spiritually. Fighting a war against kings who were, at that time, the rulers of the earth, equivalent to the United States, Russia and the EU all wrapped up as one, is no small feat. Defeating these empires requires skill and cunning. And courage.
Blind obedience in a voice from the heavens, to seemingly destroy ones future, to carry out an act in direct contradiction to all you have been taught, and to all you have educated others to, requires tremendous inner spiritual strength.
Avraham accomplished both of these tasks.
The final example may well have been the most difficult. Having succeeded in fulfilling G-d’s word, having fought the war, having taken Yitzhak to Jerusalem, one can only imagine how physically and spiritually exhausted Avraham must have been. It is written that he returned not to Hebron, rather to Beer Sheva. There he received word that his beloved wife Sarah had died suddenly.
A normal person may have questioned G-d: This is my reward for carrying out your commandment? But not Avraham. He travels to Hebron and purchases the caves of Machpela as a burial site for his wife and family.
It is difficult to imagine the depths of the scene. Sarah is lying dead, needing to be interred. Ephron the Hittite demands only a huge sum of money, four hundred silver shekels, perhaps a million dollars in modern currency. Avraham could easily have relented, saying ‘let me use the cave, without actually purchasing it.’ He could have found another site, certainly not as prestigious, but also not nearly as expensive. But Avraham, knowing the sanctity of the site, having discovered there the tombs of Adam and Eve, knowing that this is the entrance to Gan Edan – the Garden of Eden, knowing that only he could preserve this holy site for his people for all generations to come, withstood the pressures and put the money down on the table. Four hundred silver shekels. The first land transaction in Eretz Yisrael, made by the first Jew, Avraham Avinu.
Avraham’s gevura, his courage, his spiritual faith, allowed him to overcome. He was able to risk his life, his future and his money, in order to implement his willingness to obey G-d, in order to prove his true, one hundred percent belief in G-d.
This is what is missing today. True Gevura – an authentic willingness to put it all on the table, to say, ‘this is what I (we) believe, and we are not going to move one inch. No concessions, we don’t backtrack on our land, our people, our fundamental beliefs! Stand up for it, fight for it, but don’t back down. That’s what Avraham Avinu would do and say today, no doubt about it.
One of the reasons the newspaper article I mentioned at the beginning of this article is very special is because the author describes the following scene: Walking down to prayer on Friday night at Ma’arat HaMachpela he relates, in a very dry fashion, the fact that they would be praying where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried, the same people his teacher would tell them stories about in kindergarten. “The child opened his eyes very wide and exclaimed: So Daddy, we are part of the story?!”
Yes, little boy, we are part of the story. We have been for four thousand years, and we will be for the next four thousand years. The hundreds of thousands who flock to Hebron each year, the tremendous outpouring of support at Hebron functions, such as our annual dinner on November 18 in New York, the words and letters we constantly receive are proof: we are part of the story, carrying on in the footsteps of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, of Kalev and David, of generations who dreamt of Hebron and generations that lived and died in Hebron.
Yes, little boy, you are right: we are very much a part of the story.
Happy Shabbat Chaye Sarah.
With blessings from Hebron.