Hebron

| April 21, 2013 | 0 Comments
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Cave of Machpela

The Cave of Machpela, burial place of the ancestors of the Jewish People, is Judaism’s second most significant site, following the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Me'arat HaMachpela Building

Me’arat HaMachpela Building (Photo: Eman, Public Domain)

According to Rabbinic sources, the  Machpela Cave is the threshold of the Garden of Eden, and all prayers from the entire world pass through it on their way to Heaven.

The Zohar teaches that Abraham was tending his flocks and a lamb escaped into a cave. Following the lamb to retrieve it, Abraham came upon Adam and  Chava (Eve) lying in eternal repose, and a heavenly scent filled the chamber. Abraham at once vowed to bury his wife Sarah at that spot.

Hebron: Praying Outside Me'arat HaMachpela

Praying Outside the Cave (Photo: Antoine Taveneaux, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tomb of the Patriarchs

Prayers offered at the Cave of Machpela are considered to possess great potency. For hundreds of years, couples having difficulty bearing children and people in search of a spouse have prayed for forty days consecutively at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. There are countless documented cases, including many from recent times, about such efforts achieving the longed-for results.

The site has political importance for the Jewish People as well. No other nation can point to a physical spot where its ancestors are buried together. It is thus appropriate that Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar declared Hevron (Hebron) a National Heritage Site and inaugurated a program whereby all Israeli schoolchildren would tour Hevron sometime during their school years.

Hebron Cave of the Partriarchs

The Torah (Genesis 23) goes to great length to describe both the location of the field that Abraham purchased, and Abraham’s purchase itself. The Machpela Cave is described as being “at the edge of Ephron’s field” (v. 9). Whoever stands by the Herodian edifice will note that he is standing in a valley, with hills to the north and south. If he looks up towards the south, he will see the original site of ancient Hevron, Tel Hevron, where Jews and non-Jews lived together until the seventh century CE. Until that time, the valley where the Machpela Cave is situated was used for agriculture. The “edge of the field,” where it begins to slope up towards the north and agriculture becomes impractical, is the site of the Machpela. In Abraham’s day, that hilly land was used for burial caves.

Hebron: Exit from Me'arat HaMachpela

Exit from Me’arat HaMachpela (Photo: CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 1969-70, the archaeologist Zeev Yevin, of Tel Aviv University, excavated just south of the Herodian edifice. A pool of water from Roman times was discovered there, and under it a cave, identified as a burial cave from the Middle Bronze Period (3700-3800 years ago), precisely when Abraham lived.

When Ephron the Hittite first offered Abraham the cave and field of Machpela gratis, Abraham refused to accept it as a gift, insisting on paying the full price, which Ephron stipulated to be 400 silver pieces (v. 16). That sum today would be the equivalent of over 700,000 dollars.

The word machpela, used there (v. 9) to describe the cave, contains the Hebrew root meaning “double.” The scholar Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki [Rashi, d. 1105] interprets this word as meaning either that the cave actually consisted of two caves, one above the other, or of two caves, one within the other. In 1981, when a group of students descended in secret to examine the caves with their own eyes, both interpretations were demonstrated to be true.

Hebron: Did You Know?

The original Cave of Machpela, politically inaccessible to us today, lies below the ground at the center of the Herodian structure built 2,000 years ago, three stories beneath where visitors worship today within that edifice. It is shrouded in mystery.

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Category: Hebron, Historical, Holy Sites, Judaism, Uncategorized

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