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The Burning of Kever Yosef
“Alongside Shechem”
(Sotah 32a)



In our Mishna, we learn that Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael that on the day they enter Eretz Yisrael they must build a Mizbeiach in Shechem, and then divide the nation into two groups facing each other. One group would stand atop Har Grizim, and the other atop Har Eival. There, they would recite the blessings and 98 curses mentioned in the Torah (Devarim 27:12). Then, they would take apart the rocks that formed the Mizbeiach, carry them back into the Camp of Israel stationed in Gilgal, and build a new Mizbeiach. The Chasam Sofer (on the Torah, Parshas Veyechi) writes that they built the Mizbeiach in Shechem on the location Yaakov Avinu bought many years before for that purpose.


Yosef’s Grave

The Kaftor U’Ferach (ch. 11) writes that on the same spot where they built the Mizbeiach in Shechem, Yosef ‘s remains were buried. For this reason, when the Kaftor U’Ferach visited Eretz Yisrael, he refrained from walking into the field where Yosef was buried, due to the great holiness of the place where the Mizbeiach stood. Tragically in April of 2022 “Palestinian” Arabs stormed the Ohel and caused all sorts of damage, shattering his tombstone.


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 toward idolatry. That 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, O.C.) describes at length the history of Shechem, and notes that the entire city “bears the mark of sin,” that it did not merit a Jewish settlement. He writes that there was once a Torah scholar who attempted to build a Jewish settlement in Shechem and began construction of a shul and yeshiva. In the middle of the development, the Torah scholar died together with his dream. 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. This was meant as a warning to Bnei Yisrael not to sin, so that the misfortunes of Shechem would not befall them.


The Ban Against Shechem and Yaffo

Rabbi Chaim Pilaji (ibid) 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 unsteady 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 is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.