Chevron And Chabad

A Short History Of Chabad's 150 Year Love Affair With Chevron

Rabbi Michoel A Seligson

The forefathers of the Jewish nation, Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaakov have had a strong connection to Chevron[1]. It was in Chevron' that the activities central to Avrohom Avinu' life took place. He lived there during the time that he was spreading the knowledge of Hashem, and he underwent great challenge and tests there.

Avrohom paid a large sum of money to purchase the "Me'oras Hamachpela" (Cave Of The Patriarchs) in Chevron, to acquire a burial place for his wife Sora. Ultimately, Avrohom Avinu himself was buried there, as well as our forefathers Yitzchak and Yaakov, and three [2] of our matriarchs. According to the Medrash[3], the Me'oras Hamachpela is one of three places (the Bais Hamikdosh and burial place of Yosef in Shechem are the other) that cannot be disputed by the nations of the world.

The Rebbe taught us that the forefathers of the Jewish nation are paralleled by the forefather of Chabad Chassidus, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, and the Tzemach Tzedek. The symbolic linkage between these two groups of forefathers, the Avos and the Rebbeim respectively, is deepened by their practical activities in the city of Chevron.

The Mitteler Rebbe and Chevron
In the year 5580 (1820), 176 year ago, the Mitteler Rebbe issued a directive[4] that a group of his Chassidim should immigrate to Eretz Yisroel and settle there. The Rebbe's intention was to encourage and strengthen the Jewish settlement in Chevron and turn it into a center for Chabad Chassidim in Eretz Yisroel[5].

The Rebbe himself also personally bought property in Chevron. He purchased a shul next to the Bais Hakneses Avrohom Avinu (Avraham Avinu Shul) (so named because a few hundred years ago Avrohom Avinu helped complete a Yom Kippur minyan there). In purchasing this property, the Mitteler Rebbe was not only strengthening the settlement of Chevron but engaging in an act of charity[6]. This charitable act was symbolic of the Mitteler Rebbe's style of saying Chassidus, which was one of no limitations and which has been compared to a river overflowing its broad banks.

In a letter[7] to his Chassidim regarding Chevron, the Mitteler Rebbe wrote: "The teffillos (prayers) of Yidden (Jews) all over the world become connected to our forefathers and are elevated through the Me'oras Hamachpela to heaven. Therefore, in our prayer we have passages that symbolize the personal characteristics of our three forefathers."

The Rebbe concluded with a directive: "Whoever is loyal to Hashem should strengthen the settlement of Anash (the Chabad Community) near our forefathers, and their merit will protect us and draw down all the blessing from the source of blessings."

The Tzemach Tzedek and Chevron
Twenty three years later, in the year 5603 (1843), the Tzemach Tzedek directed that additional families should emigrate from Russia to Chevron [8].

A large group of Chassidim, including three of the Alter Rebbe's granddaughters settled in Chevron. One of the granddaughters was the Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel[9], a daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe, who came with her husband Rabbi Yaakov Kuli Slonim and family. In a short time, the Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel became a central figure in the life of the Chevron community.

The Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel lived with her son, Rabbi Leib Slonim, in a spacious house that he built outside the ghetto. Rabbi Slonim also set up a shul for his mother, the Rebbetzin, in the house. Today, this house is known as "Beit Schneerson".

The shul became a center of activity with classes in Torah and Chassidus for the youth, young men and elderly Jews of Chevron, thereby contributing to the Jewish settlement in Chevron.

The Rebbe Rashab and Chevron
Those years[10]· of the Rebbe Rashab's leadership were not easy ones for the Jewish settlement in Chevron.
Historians document that the year 1900 was the beginning of a particularly difficult period. This situation had a very strong effect on the Rebbe Rashab. As a result, over the years he invested much energy to develop the Chabad presence in Chevron and invigorate the Jewish settlement there physically, spiritually and through the spreading of Chassidus.

The Rebbe Rashab wrote numerous letters on the subject of Chevron and its settlement. The Rebbe's letters reveal that he envisioned his efforts resulting in an easing of the material difficulties of the people of the Holy Land. He saw his work as an extension of that of the previous Rebbeim, beginning with the Alter Rebbe, the founder of "Colel Chabad", a vital charity fund for the poor and needy in Eretz Yisroel.

The Rebbe Rashab also felt that his efforts on behalf of Chevron would contribute to the improvement of the status of the Jewish settlement there. The growth of Chabad in Chevron was seen by the Rebbe as a major force in the effort to preserve Torah education in all its purity and to stop the spread of the Haskala movement and its denial of God.

In addition to the growth of Torah chinuch, the Rebbe Rashab was interested in seeing the spread of Chassidus in Eretz Yisroel. To that end, the founding of the Yeshiva Toras Emes was one of his successful projects. The Rebbe sent his students with their Mashpia, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Havlin, as emissaries to establish the Yeshiva in Chevron. The yeshiva has been in existence now for over 90 years and is presently situated in Jerusalem. The Rebbe continued with all of these efforts until World War I, when the Jewish settlement in Chevron ceased to exist for a few years.

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe and Chevron
In 1929, Tammuz of 5689[11] a month before the terrible riots against the Jews (a pogrom where the British stood by and did nothing, later closing the area for Jewish settlement claiming it was for safety reasons) that took place there. (and the brutal deaths of the students and families associated with the Yeshiva in Chevron), the Frierdiker Lubavitcher Rebbe arrived in Eretz Yisroel for a visit. Thanks to special contacts with the, then Arab leadership, a permit was issued for the Frierdiker Rebbe and his escorts to enter the cave of the Patriarchs.

The Rebbe walked at the head of the group, completely engrossed in thought. It seemed to the observer that his eyes were closed and his lips were moving during the duration of the visit. To the people in his group, it was amazing to see the Rebbe walking ahead, at times looking to his right and to his left, seeming to be completely familiar with the paths of the cave as if he were in his own home. Not a word was spoken during the entire course of the visit.

A few days after the visit to the Me'oras Hamachpela (caves of the Patriarchs), the Rebbe departed on a ship back to Europe. While on board, he received news of the pogrom in the yeshiva in Chevron and of the deaths of the many Yeshiva students who were killed "al Kiddush Hashem." Upon hearing the news, the Rebbe suffered a heart attack.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe and Chevron
In the period after the Six-Day-War in 1967, a time of revealed miracles, many of the holy places were returned to Jewish control. The Rebbe received confidential information that the Israeli Government was suggestng that the Arabs take back some of these newly acquired territories. The Rebbe expressed alarm on this issue in his talks with individuals, in his correspondence and in 5729 (1969), the Rebbe began discussing this painful topic in public. Over the next three years, the Rebbe expressed these views.

"They are already considering returning Chevron but at this point it is still low key[12]."
"They have given up Chevron. They prohibit people from living there [13].”
"The Jews have property there but the Government has prohibited them access[14]".
"The ruler in Chevron is a relative of the Mufti who started the pogrom in 1929 in Chevron[15]”.

Over the course of the next five years, the Rebbe continuously stressed his opposition to the Israeli Government's intention of returning the territories to the Arabs.

The events of the Rebbe's leadership that are most closely connected to the present settlement in Chevron and the status of its existence today took place over a period of two weeks in the year 5737 (1976), from Shmini Atzeres through the fourth of Cheshvan.

On Erev Yom Kippur a group of Jews were attacked by Arabs while praying at the Me'oras Hamachpela. Since this took place just hours away from the holiest day of the year, this event was considered to be a particularly tragic one.
The Rebbe's response to this tragedy came on Shmini Atzeres. When [16] the Rebbe entered the shul (called 770 in Crown Heights) for Hakafos, it was evident from the Rebbe's behavior that the Avoda of these Hakafos was going to be the expression of great, strong and unusual joy. Prior to the fifth Hakofo, the Rebbe, suddenly moved from his position at the shtender, to the end of the platform upon which he stood. The Rebbe closed his eyes and began speaking in a loud and strong voice saying the following. "Since it is now the time to celebrate Hakafos in Chevron, and the Baal Shem Tov said that, "Wherever the will of the person is, that is where he finds himself," Therefore we now find ourselves in Chevron.

The joy of Simchos Torah in Chevron should accomplish that in Chevron, in her surroundings, and in all of Eretz Yisroel, it should be acknowledged and recognized that this land was given to the Jewish nation in an everlasting covenant. No one has any jurisdiction over the Jewish nation."

The Rebbe concluded, "Since the city of Chevron was given to the Leviim, therefore the Leviim should participate in this (fifth) hakofah, thereby announcing openly to everyone that we are the victors. Then in a loud voice, the Rebbe began reciting the passages of the fifth hakofo: "Melech Olomim Hoshio Noh..... "

A few days later, at the conclusion of the Shabbos Breishis Farbrengen, the Rebbe turned to the guests who came for Tishrei and who were returning to Eretz Yisroel and said, "In continuance of the matter discussed during Hakafos, the people that were present during Hakafos, upon returning to Eretz Yisroel, should travel to Chevron and if possible to the Me'oras Hamachpela, and recite there the passages of the fifth Hakofo with the same nusach recited here. In order to express this in a physical sense, L'chaim should also be said there." The Hakafos in Chevron were scheduled for the fourth of Cheshvan, approximately a week later. In the middle of the day, the Rebbe's secretariat announced that the Rebbe was going to farbreng that night.

In the opening remarks[17]" of the farbrengen, the Rebbe stated that word had been received from Chevron that the shlichus assigned on Shabbos Breishis had been fulfilled. The Rebbe devoted a major portion of the farbrengen to the fact that the Jewish nation is the rightful owner of Chevron.

1978 - "...In 20 or 30 years from now..."
A year later, in 5738 (1978)[18] at a farbrengen on Pesach, the Rebbe discussed the situation in Chevron with Rabbi Elberg (z"l). During the course of the discussion the Rebbe said, "Some people think that last year's Hakafos, here and in Chevron was to make kuntzen." On the contrary, I am a Shulchan Aruch Yid. When I requested last year to make Hakafos in Chevron, this had a special significance. In twenty or thirty years from now, the Arabs will come with a very strong political pressure to get Chevron.
And that's why this event of last year's Simchas Torah was so significant."

1997 - Twenty years later - Open prophecy
Twenty year later, we see the event precisely as the Rebbe predicted. The Arabs have come with a very strong political pressure to take over Chevron. May the merits of the Avos and the Rebbeim, Nisiei Chabad, and all their efforts on behalf of Chevron "draw[19] down" all the blessings from the source of blessings" for a total victory for the Jewish settlement in Chevron and an overall victory for the Jewish Nation.

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1. Rashi on Breishis 21, 34
2. Rochel was buried in Bais Lechem. Also see Likutei Sichos Vol. 25 pp. 91.
3 Breishis Rabbah 79: 7.
4. Also see "Kfar Chabad" #595 pp. 52. Also, #592 pp.35
5. See Sicha of Shabbos Tezaveh 5727 (1967): The Mitteler Rebbe promised to send Chassidus manuscripts to Eretz Yisroel.
6. See Sicha of Shabbos Vayeizeh 5729 (1968) chapt.2
7. See letters of the Mitteler Rebbe. Number 32
8. See "Kfar Chabad" #595 pp. 53
9. The Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel discussed the difficulties of the trip because of weather conditions, to which the Tzemach Tzedek responded and promised "So you will travel between the rain drops". So it was along the whole trip that not a drop of rain fell on her.
10. See Kfar Chabad #735 pp. 32 in detail.
11. See "Kfar Chabad" # 592 pp. 35 (from "Sefer Chevron" by Rabbi S.Z. Kalonsky)
12. Sicha of 12 of Tammuz 5730 (1970) chap. 7. Kfar Chabad #730 pp. 43.
13. Sicha of Shabbos Eikev 5730 (1970) chap. 10
14. Kfar Chabad #484 pp. 23. See sichos: Shabbos Noach 5731 Chap 4; Yud Shvat 5731 chapt.4 and sefer Shemen Sasson" (1995) vol. I pp. 224.
15. Sicha of Shabbos Behaloscho 5730. chap 2. Shabbos Noach 5731 chap 4.
16. see "Kfar Chabad" # 687 pg.16.
17. See "Likulel Sichos"· 4th of Cheshvan 5737.
18. See "Kfar Chabad" #434 pg 21.
19. See above footnote #5.

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