Following high school, while in Israel, I stayed in touch with one of my teachers and I recall the Aerogramme I received from him. He stressed the importance of visiting the holy sites of Israel as holy sites, not as tourist attractions. He encouraged me to glean from these places the holiness they offered. He mentioned the Kotel and Ma'arat HaMachpeilah as examples of holy places with reservoirs of holiness to tap. It was timeless, sound advice and it came back to me as I turned to this week's pasha, which describes the acquisition of the Ma'arat HaMachpeilah. The following ideas are based on the work Wellsprings of Faith by Rabbi Moshe Wolfson.
Yerushalayim and Chevron are separate and distinct places of prayer that serve as spiritual centers of the Jewish People. They were each established as holy places by Avraham and are forever linked with the Avot: Yerushalayim was set as a holy place after Akeidat Yitzchak and Chevron was bought and established as the holy burial ground for the Avot and Imahot. Yerushalayim is open, situated on a mountain; all about seeing and being seen. Chevron, in contast, is concealed and underground. Yerushalayim is about open revelation, Chevron is about hidden faith.
On the one hand, the hidden aspect of Chevron makes it seem inferior to Yerushalayim, but Chevron actually claims a semblance of superiority. That which is hidden can not be destroyed. In fact, while the city of Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash have been decimated, Chevron has never been destroyed.
Every individual is a microcosm of the world. Everything that exists in the world is mirrored inside us. Just as there is a Ma'arat HaMachpeilah in the world, there is a Ma'arat HaMachpeilah inside the heart of every Jew. Deep inside us is a place that contains the holiness of the Avot and connects us with them. When we mention their merit in our prayers we are not merely eliciting a vague, old memory, but we are connecting with an essence presently residing within us.
When one stands in Chevron he or she doesn't readily see the grave sites of our forefathers. Even at the entrance of Ma'arat HaMachpeilah no view of the graves is available. The Avot are buried deep within our physical world in an unusual way in which they are there but hard to find. Similarly, the spiritual essence of the Avot is buried so deeply inside of every Jew that it is sometimes almost undetectable. The essence of our forefathers, the pillars of our faith rests in our core. As Rabbi Wolfson puts it: "It is hidden far beneath the thoughts and feelings that flicker across the face of our being, shifting like the winds and changing like the weather. It is hidden beneath the persistent patterns of personality."
May the reading of this parsha serve to remind us of the faithful message of the Ma'arat HaMachpeilah. May we be blessed to tap into the deep faith of our fathers which lives inside our souls. And may we all be blessed to be in Israel soon and tap into the holiness of the land, in places like Yerushalayim and Chevron.
Rabbi Neil Fleischmann