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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sara 5780

Parashat Hashavua: Chevron or Yerushalayim?

Harav Yosef Carmel

Our parasha deals with the purchase of Me’arat Hamachpela for 400 high-quality silver coins. The halacha is that money is one of the means of acquiring land. The gemara (Kiddushin 26a) inquires the source for this halacha. Chizkiya answers that it is learned from the navi Yirmiyahu, when he was commanded to buy (it occurred with coins) land in the Jerusalem area prior to the exile to strengthen belief in the return to the Land. Tosafot (ad loc.) ask why the gemara did not bring as a source the p’sukim about the purchase of Me’arat Hamachpela.

One can argue, homiletically, that there are two different approaches. One is that the purchase of a field in Yerushalayim is a central matter, whereas the other posits that buying Me’arat Hamachpela was more central. In modern times, there was an interesting dispute that focuses around these viewpoints, about which Rav Kook’s opinion was recruited in 1907, when he was Chief Rabbi of Yafo. The Jewish community of Chevron had decided to withdraw from the apparatus of collecting and apportioning financial support for fledgling communities in then-Palestine. The national organization sued the Chevron Council in beit din.

The people of Chevron made the following claims: 1. The forefathers chose to set up their homes in Chevron, making the community 1,000 years older than that of Yerushalayim. 2. In his battles, Yehoshua bin Nun burned Yerushalayim, and Jews did not try to move there. 3. The Midrash says that the opening to the Garden of Eden is in Chevron, as Adam was able to smell when he was looking for a burial plot for Chava. There is an opinion (Zohar Chadash II, Rut 33b) that actually Yerushalayim is home to one of the openings to Gehinom in the valley of Ben Hinom (Eiruvin 19a). 4. The forefathers not only chose Chevron independently for a burial plot, but were following the lead of Adam. 5. Me’arat Hamachpela was the first place that the first forefather bought, thus making it like the “key to Eretz Yisrael.” 6. King David chose Chevron as the first seat of his kingdom.

Next week we will take a look at how Rav Kook criticized the decision of the people of Chevron. Let us, in the meantime, pray for the strengthening of Yerushalayim as the one and only spiritual center that Israel provides to the world.

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