Over the years I have had the great merit to visit the Holy Land many times, experiencing the unique spiritual and physical beauty that the land has to offer.
But one trip stands out in my mind. It was when I prayed at the location of the sacred “Seventh Step.”
Early on a Friday morning in July 2011, I joined a busload of people who had awakened in the middle of the night to pray at the Tomb of our Mother Rachel, and from there to Hebron to pray exactly at sunrise at the “Cave of Machpelah,” the ancient burial place of the first human beings who ever lived, as well as our patriarchs and matriarchs.
We arrived on time, and I had every intention of going inside to pray. But then I was told the story of the Seventh Step.
For 700 years prior to 1967, Muslims forbade the Jewish people from praying inside the massive structure that was built around the cave. But the Jewish people did not give up, and continued to visit the site, despite not being allowed any closer than the seventh step outside the building. Longing to get as close as they could, they congregated at this seventh step, thereby sanctifying it with their hopes and their tears – hundreds of years of sacred yearning of the Jewish people.
I have prayed inside the building many times, and did so that morning as well. But first, I, along with many others, paused to pray at that sacred seventh step.
It seems to me that this spiritual yearning can be traced back to this week’s Torah portion, where Avraham, having previously felt drawn to the spiritual power of this location, negotiates and secures its purchase for a substantial sum.
But the greater the spiritual power, the greater the controversy. Like the Temple Mount and the burial place of Joseph in Shechem – locations which the Bible specifically states were purchased for the Jewish people – Hebron and the Cave of the Machpelah have been disputed, often violently, by the other descendants of Avraham: the offspring of Yishmael, today’s Arab Nations. Tragically, the violence has currently spread throughout the Holy Land, fueled by those who call into doubt any Jewish connection to these sacred places, specifically, and our sacred homeland, in general.
Regardless of any political leanings or solutions, at times like these, we must cry with and pray for our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. And like King David before us, we must cry out with hopes of peace, even when others call for war (Psalms 120:7). But no matter what, like generations of Jews before us, we must never give up on our spiritual connection to the Holy Land – Israel must always be in our hearts and on our minds. We should visit it, especially in times of trouble. Support it. Consider moving to it. Study about it. Love and cherish it.
And never give up hope – Judaism is eternally optimistic. Our Torah portion ends with Avraham’s two righteous and beloved sons – Yitzchok, the progenitor of the Jewish people, and Yishmael, forefather of the numerous Arab nations – standing shoulder to shoulder, paying their respects to their father at this very disputed location, with Yishmael respecting Yitzchok’s right to lead the way. The Rabbis tell us that this portends hope for the future day when the Jewish people will live securely in their ancestral homeland, with their rights respected by their “cousins.” On that day nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation and never again will they study war” (Isaiah: 2).
May it be so speedily and in our days.
Rabbi Yitzchok Oratz is the Rabbi and Director of the Monmouth Torah Links community. Shortly after receiving his semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Bais Medrash Govoha, the famed Lakewood Yeshiva, Rabbi Oratz, along with his wife Toby and family, moved to Marlboro, NJ where they co-founded the MTL community in 2001. Aside for his “Devar on the Par” that he writes for MTL, his writings have also been published on Aish, Times of Israel, Seforim Blog, Hakira, and in various Rabbinic journals. Rabbi Oratz looks forward to continuing teaching Torah in a way that is timely and timeless, and sharing meaningful Jewish experiences with the amazing MTL community.