Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Excitement of Shabbat Hebron from Afar

This Shabbat, Parshat Chayei Sarah, was Shabbat Hebron. Twenty-five thousand Jews from all over Israel and even the world descended upon Hebron for the yearly event when we celebrate the purchase of the Cave of Machpelah and its surrounding fields by our Patriarch Abraham.
The Bible's detail of the public purchase in Genesis 23 has been regarded as the deed of the Jewish people throughout the generations to Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs.
14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him:
15 'My lord, hearken unto me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.'
16 And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.
17 So the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the border thereof round about, were made sure
18 unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.
All the residents of the city witnessed Abraham's purchase of Machpelah and its field. Abraham buried Sarah there, and when he passed away, his children buried Abraham beside his beloved wife. Isaac and Jacob and their wives were buried in Machpelah as well. We also believe that Adam and Eve were buried in Machpelah.
While many of our friends traveled to Hebron for Shabbat, our family was home with our children and guests. The talk at the table was only about Hebron, what we imagined was happening with thousands of people looking for an enthusiastic minyan and a dry place to sleep. My children and my company, who had come from Jerusalem before Shabbat, thrilled everyone at the table with their descriptions of endless rows of double-accordion-buses bringing visitors from Jerusalem to Gilo, where they changed for bullet proof buses to take them to Hebron. My son said that all of Jerusalem was filled with a special exhiliration, as thousands of white-shirted young people ran to the Central Bus Station, determined not to miss out on the packed-buses to Hebron.
Shabbat in Hebron is always a meaningful and uplifting experience. But imagine being in Hebron on the anniversary of its purchase, along with 25,000 other Jews. What ruach (spirit) and unity reign there! My friend Phil said that everywhere you looked, there was another minyan praying joyfully - inside, outside, everywhere. The tumult in the Gutnick Center dining room was unforgettably fabulous, and the air of freedom was infectious as young and old walked through the city streets on this day without fear.
My family didn't make it to Hebron for Shabbat Chayei Sarah this year, but we felt the thrill of everyone who did.

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