The first piece of real estate ever purchased by a Jew in the Land of Israel is not in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv. Not even in Bnei-Brak.
It is Me’arat Hamachpelah – the “Cave of the Patriarchs,” in the ancient city of Hevron.
As we read in the Torah this month, Avraham purchased this territory from the local Hittite tribe after the passing of his beloved, righteous wife, Sarah, whom he wished to bury at this site. Later, Avraham himself would be buried there, as would other members of his family. As we know from later in the Book of Bereshit, Avraham’s son – Yitzhak – is buried there along with his wife, Rivkah, as is Yitzhak’s son, Yaakov, with one of his wives – Leah.
Our sages teach us that there is also a fourth couple buried in this cave – the very first people who walked the earth: Adam and Havah. The Torah delves into the story of this transaction with considerable detail. Surprisingly, the Torah found it necessary to present a precise account of Avraham’s dealings with the local Hittites when he sought to purchase the Machpelah cave. Why is this transaction so significant? Why did the Torah find it necessary to go into such
detail telling us that Avraham purchased this territory?
Hidden and Revealed Sanctity
The explanation can be found in a passage in the Zohar, which draws an intriguing association between the city of Hevron and a more famous city in the Land of Israel – our eternal capital, Jerusalem.
The Zohar cryptically comments that Jerusalem is the city of revealed sanctity, whereas Hevron is the place of hidden, concealed sanctity. Jerusalem was, of course, the site of the Bet Hamikdash, where miracles occurred each day, and where people could
come and directly and palpably experience the Shechinah (Divine Presence). It was the central location of the service of Gd, where the sacrificial offerings were brought, and it was also the central location of Torah authority, as the highest rabbinic body was situated there. Jerusalem thus signifies sanctity and spirituality that are clearly manifest and unmistakably tangible.
Indeed, the word “Yerushalayim” consists of the word “yireh” – “see,” alluding to this theme of revelation and visual expression.
The sanctity of Hevron, by contrast, is hidden. There are no special laws to observe or rituals to perform in Hevron. The sanctity of Hevron is rooted in the presence of our saintly patriarchs and matriarchs – who are buried underground. The structure of the Tomb of the Patriarchs which we can visit nowadays sits atop the underground burial site; our patriarchs and matriarchs are buried deep beneath the structure. In fact, their burial site is called “Me’arat Hamachpelah,” which means “double cave.” Our sages explain that they are buried in a cave situated within a cave. This aptly symbolizes the nature of the sanctity of Hevron – a sanctity which does not find expression, that cannot be easily discerned, that lies deep beneath the surface.
To put it succinctly, the sanctity of Jerusalem is expressed through the majesty, grandeur, and mystique of the Bet Hamikdash, whereas the sanctity of Hevron is expressed through the earth on the ground under which our righteous forebears were laid to rest.
This fundamental distinction between Jerusalem and Hebron reveals yet another critical difference between the two cities. Jerusalem was destroyed and set ablaze twice, whereas the city of Hevron was never destroyed. Revealed sanctity can be consumed by fire, but concealed sanctity exists forever. The sacred structure of the Bet Hamikdash, the outward manifestation of Gd’s presence in the world, was set ablaze and burned to the ground. But the remains of our patriarchs and matriarchs are safely preserved beneath layers of earth, which can never be destroyed.
What does this mean?
It means that when the Babylonians and Romans destroyed the two Bateh Mikdash, they destroyed only the revealed sanctity of our people. They took away from us the tangible expression of our nation’s sanctity and connection to Gd. But even after that happened, and throughout the many centuries that have passed ever since, “Hevron” remains intact. The loss of Jerusalem was devastating, to be
sure, but it did not sever the connection between Gd and His treasured nation. Jerusalem was destroyed, but Hevron remains forever.
The root of the name “Hevron” means “attach” – because it signifies our attachment to the Almighty which can never be severed. Even when Jerusalem is destroyed, Hevron remains – because our relationship to Gd is eternal and unconditional.
The Talmud teaches that the three daily prayers have two different origins. On the one hand, they commemorate the three different components of the daily schedule of sacrifices in the Bet Hamikdash – the morning sacrifice, the afternoon sacrifice, and the burning of sacrifices on the altar during the night. But additionally, centuries before the Bet Hamikdash, the three daily prayers were instituted by the patriarchs – Avraham instituted the morning Shaharit service; Yitzhak instituted Minhah; and Yaakov instituted the evening Arvit prayer. Our relationship with Gd exists on two levels – that reflected by the Bet Hamikdash, which is “revealed” and readily visible; and a more subtle connection, represented by our patriarchs who are buried in Hevron but whose legacy and merit continue to sustain us. The destruction of the Mikdash meant the end of sacrifices, but it did not mean the end of prayer, the end of our connection to Gd. The hidden, inner connection between us and Gd continues forever, and will always remain intact.
The Eternity of the Marital Bond
This helps explain the otherwise peculiar connection that we find between Avraham’s purchase of Me’arat Hamachpelah, and the
institution of marriage.
The first indication of such a link is the flow of the text. The
somber story of Avraham’s purchase of Me’arat Hamachpelah is immediately followed by the festive account of the first shidduch in Jewish history – the story of Avraham’s servant who set out to find a wife for Yitzhak. These two very different stories appear side-by- side in the Torah.
But perhaps even more significantly, the accepted method of forming the marital bond – kiddusheh kesef, giving money or an object of value (such as a ring) to the bride – is rooted in the story of Avraham’s purchase of the Machpelah cave. The Gemara in the beginning of Masechet Kiddushin finds a textual link between the Torah’s account of this transaction, and the Torah’s description of the process of betrothal. On the basis of this parallel, the Gemara deduced that just as real estate can be acquired through the transfer of money, a man betroths a woman by giving her money (or an object of value).
Is this not a strange way for the Torah to teach us about the halachic mechanism of betrothal? Is there no more appropriate context in which to convey this information than Avraham’s purchase of a burial plot after his wife’s passing?
In light of what we have seen, however, there is no more appropriate story in the entire Torah through which to understand the nature and essence of marriage. Avraham’s purchase of Me’arat Hamachpelah established the notion of an internal and eternal bond with the Almighty. The concept embodied by this piece of property
is that there exists a deep relationship between the Jewish People and Gd which cannot always be easily seen, but which can never be broken. The same is true of the relationship between a husband and wife. The marital bond exists on two levels – the revealed and the concealed. The husband and wife are to join together through their physical relationship, but also in a deep, spiritual bond. Marriage is thejoiningofbodyandsoul. Andthemore the couple works to build, develop, and nurture their spiritual bond, the more they guarantee that this bond will be eternal and everlasting. As their souls are eternal, a husband and wife’s relationship becomes eternal when it merges the souls, when they come together at the core essence of their beings.
Our Unbreakable Connection to Gd
It is for good reason that the Machpelah cave is the first piece of property in the Land of Israel purchased by a Jew, and that the Torah found it necessary to describe this transaction in such great detail – because the concept represented by the sacred city of Hevron is of extreme importance to each and every one of us.
We sometimes feel as though our personal “Bet Hamikdash” has been destroyed, that our connection to Gd has been lost. We have all had times when we’ve either made a grave mistake, or gone through a period of spiritual malaise, and we feel distant from Gd. This is especially so in today’s day and age, when we have countless distractions and lures all around us. When we slip, when we fall, when we succumb, when we are lax, we might reach the conclusion that our connection to Gd has been entirely severed.
But this is only partially true. Our failings and lapses might, indeed, destroy our “Bet Hamikdash,” our discernible connection to Gd. But our “Hevron” is everlasting. Our inner, concealed bond with the Almighty remains intact forever. We are eternally the beloved children of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, of Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah. And so no matter what we have done in the past – we are still connected to Gd. He still wants to hear our prayers, and He still wants us to perform mitzvot.
Let us never feel discouraged by our failures, our mistakes and our struggles. Let us instead be motivated and driven by the awareness of “Hevron” – of our everlasting bond with Gd, who wants us to continue building and nurturing this relationship at all times, regardless of what has happened in the past.