Tishrei 23, 5771, 10/1/2010
The fourth leg
Jews celebrate three major holidays annually: Passover, Shavuot, and Succot. These three festive occasions celebrate our exodus from Egypt, receiving of the Torah, and the Divine presence watching over us for forty years in the desert. These special times could be figuratively compared to a necessary injection, provided three times yearly, for a certain medical issue. In this case these shots are not required for any physical ailment. Rather they are as intravenous inoculations filled with a unique serum, that being emunah, otherwise known in English as faith.
From the very beginning Jews have had to deal with major trials and tribulations. Even before we were officially a ‘people.’ Let’s take, for example, the founder, the first Jew, Abraham. Our sages teach that Abraham was tested ten times by G-d, including what would seem to be the ultimate trial, that being the command to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.
It must be kept in mind that Abraham had been working quite strenuously for decades to convince those around him to abandon not only idol worship, but also such horrific practices as human sacrifice. In addition, he believed that the future, not his personal future, but that of his belief in one G-d, rested with Isaac. Removing his son from the pages of history represented a direct contradiction to all had taught, and seemingly would bring to an abrupt end the Abrahamic covenant.
Yet Abraham realized that what he believed to be ‘right’ was secondary when compared to a divine decree. He therefore willingly obeyed the Creator’s orders. That very act, his ability to lift a knife to take his son’s life, instilled in Jews from then, through this very day, the trait of ‘mesirut nefesh.’ That is, such total dedication and devotion to HaShem allowing people to be ready for the ‘supreme sacrife,’ in other words, giving our lives for our people, our land, our Torah.
Yet it has been written that Akedat Yitzhak, the binding of Isaac, was not Abraham’s most difficult ordeal. Rather, the tenth and most complex test of Abraham’s faith was the purchase of the Caves of Machpela, to bury his beloved wife Sarah. Why so?
Abraham and Sarah had known each other all their lives. They were married for many many decades. Their lives were totally entwined, as one. They were perhaps a paradigm of the ideal couple with unbounded faith in one G-d. Sarah died immediately following the above-mentioned story of the near sacrifice of Isaac, which must also have been extremely stressful. Despite his rock-solid trust in G-d, Abraham must still have been left a bit dazed. And then he receives word that Sarah is dead in Hebron.
Abraham hurries back to plan her burial and seeks out Efron the Hittite in order to purchase the field and adjacent caves of Machpela. The negotiations are complex, and conclude with a demand for four hundred silver shekels, which today is in the vicinity of seven hundred thousand dollars. How did Abraham, following the Akedah and the death of Sarah, have the peace of mind to successfully conclude this deal? He could have accepted the caves for free, but declined, knowing that possession requires purchase; a signed contract, payment, and witnesses. He could have passed up the caves, interring Sarah elsewhere. But Abraham held his own, refusing to compromise the principals he himself defined, and finished the acquisition.
Why? Because he knew the value of this so sacred a site, the original burial place of Adam and Eve, the entrance to the Garden of Eden, the doorway to paradise.
Here too, Abraham instilled within the Jewish people an eternal element of faith, lasting to this very day; a devotion beginning with Hebron, but spreading far and wide, leading through Jerusalem and all Eretz Yisrael.
What trials and tribulations have Jews not faced while trying live in our land? We have been exiled and murdered. Our holy places were declared ‘off-limits.’ A mosque was built on Temple Mount, site of Beit HaMikdash, the holy Temple. Jews were prevented from entering Ma’arat HaMachpela for seven centuries. And only a few years ago Joseph’s tomb was abandoned and destroyed.
Yet we are not a people to give up. We never lost hope, never said never, and notwithstanding the tremendous hardships, arrive back home and declared a state. Hebron is an excellent example. Following the 1929 riots and massacre who ever believed that Jews could ever again live in Hebron? But home we came. Following the Hebron Accords, when eighty percent of the city was transferred to Arafat and the PA, who expected Jews to remain in this ancient city? But we stayed. When the second intifada, which I call the ‘Olso War’ began on the eve of Rosh HaShana in the year 2000, and snipers shot from the surrounding hills into the Jewish neighborhoods in Hebron for two and a half years, who could have imagined that the community would continue to not only exist, but thrive? But thrive we did. And continue doing so at the present.
This past week of Succot well over 50,000 Jews visited Hebron. This isn’t the first time such huge numbers of people throng to Hebron. Almost every holiday season, Passover and Succot, tens of thousands worship at Machpela and walk through the streets to the various Jewish neighborhoods: Tel Hebron, Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano-Yeshivat Shavei Hevron and the Avraham Avinu quarter. This is Am Yisrael, remembering our past and looking to our future.
The three annual holidays, Passover, Shavuot and Succot, are called, in Hebrew, ‘Regalim’ which literally means ‘legs.’ Yet a table cannot rest on three legs, it would be much too shaky and fall. So, what is the ‘fourth regel’ the fourth ‘leg’ on which we rest? Clearly the fourth leg is the Jewish people, a nation imbued with a faith which commenced at the very beginning of our existence, starting with the first Jew, the first believer, Abraham. These are our four ‘legs,’ the stability of our existence, and the insurance of our eternity, in our land, forever.