We said goodbye this morning to Yerushalayim and hopped on the bus with our backpacks, luggage and a boxed breakfast, picked up the Luzhanskiys and headed down to visit with our parents in Chevron. First stop was Mearat Hamachpaila where we davened a very moving shacharit in the room marked for our father, Avraham and our mother, Sarah.
After tefilah, Yoni explained to us that the room we are sitting in, while it is designated for Avraham and Sarah is not actually their graves. There are 3 such marked rooms that are beautifully decorated, a second room for Yitzchak and Rivkah and a third for Yakov and Leah. Behind a curtain in the room we davened is a large green door that is the entrance for Yitzchak and Rivkah’s room. This room is only accessible to Jews for 20 days a year. The rest of the year it is where the Muslims pray.
The 7th and 8th grade students learned about an explorer Benjamin of Tudela this year in Jewish history, who traveled from Spain all the way to Asia before Marco Polo. He recorded his travels and wrote of going down into the caves of Machpaila. Yoni told us that in the room through the big green door are decorative archways. In 1981, yeshiva students moved the archways one selichot night, while the Jews were davening loudly to drown out their noise and found a stairway to walk down into the caves underground. There they saw a jar, bones and a long corridor. At the end of the corridor they knew was an opening of a cave and then another cave. The students had to stop since they heard the Muslim call to prayer and needed to leave the underground area. They were caught and the Supreme Court of Israel voted that no one may go down so as not to create friction. The amazing thing is that Benjamin of Tudela over 1,000 years ago described the same things that these yeshiva students had seen.
On our way out of Machpaila, we saw the burial site of Avner ben Ner, Shaul’s general. We learned about his death by the hands of Yoav, Dovid’s general this year in navi. We then ate our boxed breakfast and proceeded to the believed grave sites of Ruth and her grandson, Yishai, the father of King David. It is not 100% certain that these people are buried where we visited, but again because Jews have designated it as a place of prayer, it retains holiness. Today it is a small shul and next to the shul is a really neat ancient shul that we walked through.
It was on to ancient Chevron, where we saw ancient finds from Chizkiyahu’s days. He was the king who built the water tunnels in Yerushalayim. But the most amazing thing to see was an ancient staircase to the city gates from 4,000 years ago. This very likely could have been the location where Avraham purchased the cave of Machpaila from Efron Hachiti.
Our last stop in Chevron was Beit Hadasah, which today is a beautiful museum. Each room is hand painted with vibrant colors and shares the history from Chevron from Avraham until today. Since the days of Yehoshua until today there has always been a Jewish presence in Chevron with the exception of the years 1929-1967. In 1929 there was a pogrom against the Jews by the Arabs and the British who ruled at the time decided that no Jews may live in Chevron anymore.
During the 6 day war, Rav Goren, chief rabbi of the army, single handedly captured Chevron. After the liberation of Yerushalayim, he wanted to enter Chevron with the troops. The army told him that he may come at his own risk. The next morning Rav Goren awoke early and none of the troops were in the camp. Thinking they left ahead of him, Rav Goren and his driver drove in their jeep into Chevron not wanting to miss the action. As Rav Goren rode into town, he saw the Arabs had placed white flags out their windows in surrender. He drove to Mearat Hamachpaila and knocked on the door and told the Muslim cleric to open up. He was told that Jews aren’t allowed and Rav Goren told the cleric to move back and shot open the door with an Uzi and placed an Israeli flag on the site. Since then Jews have moved back to Chevron. The soldiers that he thought had left were actually still planning the attack.
From this site we drove to Beit Lechem and davened mincha at our mother Rochel’s grave. After mincha it was time to say good bye to the Luzhanskiys and begin to make our way up North.