“They kidnapped me.”
On June 12, those words, those horrible words, were whispered by Gilad Shaar into his cell phone. He had been hitchhiking in Gush Etzion with Naftali Frankel and Eyal Yifrah. Three teenagers. Youngsters. Children. Our children. Hiking in our Judean Hills on their way home from yeshiva when Palestinian terrorists, members of Hamas, abducted them.
The IDF’s Nahal Brigade conducted a vigorous, relentless, and determined search as the Jewish world held its breath together with these three young men’s families. We hoped against all odds they would be found alive.
On June 30, despite our fervent and desperate prayers, search teams found the bodies of the three missing teenagers in a field northwest of Hebron, apparently killed shortly after their abduction nearly three weeks earlier.
Hebron! Once again, you hold our beloved dead!
“Avraham then requested that Ephron the Hittite, the son of Zohar, give him the cave of Machpelah, in the end of his field, ‘for as much money as it is worth’ ” (Genesis 23:9).
After Ephron confirmed he would give the cave (verse 11), Avraham further requested (verse 13) that he give him the field for money. Ephron agreed and named a price.
We are taught that, despite God’s promise of the Holy Land to Avraham and his descendants, Avraham’s purchase of the first property to be his, a funeral cave for Sarah, further cements our ancient and eternal claim to this land.
When I approach Me’arat HaMachpelah, it is never lightly. With each visit I carry the awareness of its power and significance. With each step I take, I feel the echo of our patriarchs and matriarchs. I hear their voices in my ear. And, as if geography were not powerful enough, the time of my visit imbues me with an overwhelming sense of urgency and sanctity. For when my wife and I approach Me’arat HaMachpelah it is always during the Yamim Noraim. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I return. Chazarah.
Each visit unique, each filled with its own emotion. It was only last year when, soon after our visit, we learned that one of our IDF soldiers safeguarding this most holy place was murdered by an Arab sniper. I hurried to study the photographs I had taken, looking closely at each face. Was he the brave young man beside me, smiling into the camera so that I would have a reminder to look at throughout the year until my next return? Was it he, my beloved IDF brother, who with the other chayalim make it possible for all of us to come cry and plead with God at this holy site?
R’ Yudan bar Simon states in the midrash that there are three places about which the nations of the world cannot taunt Israel with the claim that these are stolen lands: the Cave of the Machpelah, the Temple, and the burial place of Joseph [Shechem]. (Not that one does not feel the “taunt” of the world as one drives through the narrow Hebron streets with piercing, murderous eyes marking each kilometer of the journey.)
Each year. Each step. Each prayer. Always so heavy with emotion, with hope, with sanctity. But this year the weight was heavier, the hope more distant, the prayers more tearful. For this year, as we cried to God, experiencing the eternal fear and trembling in these halls, the resting place of our Avos and Imahos, we carried with us the knowledge of our three young men brutally murdered and dumped unceremoniously in the fields of Hebron.
As I lingered close by the Ohel Yitzchak, open to Jews on one of the ten days so we can pray at Yitzchak’s kever, I could hear them; I could hear their cries, I could hear their parents’ anguished cries, I could hear the cries of Klal Yisrael.
Rabbi Eliyahu Safran