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The Burning Of Kever Yosef
‘Alongside Shechem’
(Sotah 32a)

 

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In our mishnah, we learn that Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael to build a mizbei’ach in Shechem and divide the nation into two groups on the day they enter Eretz Yisrael. One group should stand on top of Har Grizim and the other group should stand on top of Har Eival. There, they should recite the blessings and 98 curses mentioned in the Torah (Devarim 27:12). Following that, they should take apart the rocks that formed the mizbei’ach, carry them back into the Camp of Israel stationed in Gilgal, and build a new mizbei’ach. The Chasam Sofer (on the Torah, Parshas Veyechi) writes that they built the mizbei’ach in Shechem on a location that Yaakov Avinu bought many years prior for that purpose.

 

Yosef’s Grave

The Kaftor U’Ferach (ch. 11) writes that Yosef’s remains were buried on the same spot where Bnei Yisrael built the mizbei’ach. For this reason, when the Kaftor U’Ferach visited Eretz Yisrael, he refrained from walking into the field where Yosef is buried due to the great holiness of the place where the mizbei’ach stood.

 

Destined for Misfortune

Rashi (Bereishis 37:14) notes that Shechem is a location “destined for misfortune.” There, Dina was abducted, Yosef was kidnapped and sold by his brothers, and the kingdom of David was split resulting in the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel, whose kings led the Jewish people towards idolatry, which resulted in the exile and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

Rabbi Chaim Pilaji (Tenufa Chaim on Divrei HaYomim 2:10:1, cited in Teshuvos Yayin HaTov) describes at length the history of Shechem and notes that the entire city “bears the mark of sin” and did not merit to have a Jewish settlement. He writes that a Torah scholar once attempted to build a Jewish settlement in Shechem and began construction of a shul and yeshiva. In the middle of the development, however, the Torah scholar died. Rabbi Chaim Pilaji writes that the dark history of Shechem is a mystery that only Hashem understands.

 

Warned by the Curses

Rabbi Zvi Hersh Shlez (a student of Volozhin, who lived about 160 years ago) writes in his sefer, Niflaos M’Toras Hashem (3:54), that the blessings and curses were given on Har Grizim and Har Eival since these mountains are close to Shechem and were meant as a warning to Bnei Yisrael not to sin so that the misfortunes of Shechem not befall them.

 

The Ban Against Shechem and Yaffo

Rabbi Chaim Pilaji notes that Torah leaders, including Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, passed a ban forbidding Jews from establishing residence in Shechem. However, the Tzitz Eliezer (10:1:77) writes that, most likely, this ban applied only for a limited time, in order to encourage the development of major Jewish settlements elsewhere in Eretz Yisrael. He writes that for this same reason, the rabbanim of Yerushalayim passed a ban not to live in Yaffo for fear that the settlement of Yaffo might detract from the settlement of Yerushalayim (which was precarious in those days). Later, when the community of Yerushalayim became more firmly established, the ban was lifted (Teshuvos She’eilas Shlomo 2:53), and a chief rabbi was appointed for the community of Yaffo.

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RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.