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My six hour tour of (Chevron) Hebron

Friday, 5 June, 2015 - 11:57 am

This week, I write from Israel. I am here in honor of my mother's first yahrtzeit. The other day, I was lucky enough to visit the city of Hebron.

The first place I went to pray was the holy site of Mearat Hamachpela. Mearat Hamachpela, literally translated as "Cave of the Double [Tombs]," is a cave in which four couples are buried (hence the name). The very first couple, Adam & Eve, the first of all mankind, are buried there. Near them lie Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, & Jacob & Leah. These are our forefathers and mothers, the founders of the Jewish nation.

When I finished praying by all these holy gravesites, I visited one of the community founders, renowned artist Boruch Nachshon. He treated me to a midnight tour that lasted for six hours and showed me all around Hebron. He pointed out that Hebron has been settled with Jews for over 3 millennium. We went from one incredibly historic and holy place to the next.

How old is the oldest piece of land in New York? The first Jewish plot of land in Hebron was purchased by the first Jew, our father Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago. Recently, archaeologists have found excavations - the steps upon which he walked, and a well from which he drank. I had the privilege of walking on these very same steps!

Next, we visited the grave of Ruth, great-grandmother of King David. We recently celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, on which we learned Megilat Rut. Visiting her grave site so close to the holiday gave it an extra special feeling. I also prayed by the grave of Yishai, King David's father.

For the past 250 years, Chabad has had a presence in Hebron. It began when the granddaughter of the first Chabad Rebbe, Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel, moved there with her husband and children. Together, they established the first Chabad synagogue in Hebron. I visited her grave as well. Afterwards, we went to Bet Schneerson. This is where her descendants lived until 1929, when the Arabs murdered many Jews and injured and kicked out the rest. Bet Schneerson still exists today.

The fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer, purchased a big, beautiful building in Hebron's center. Today, this is known as Bet Romano, and it is the main Yeshiva in Hebron. It is home to the hundreds of students who sleep and study there.

Bet Hadassah was a unique place to see because of its recent history and connection to us today. Only 35 years ago the Israeli government attempted to give in to the Arabs' demands and hand over our holy city, Hebron. With great heroism, ten righteous women and their children moved into Bet Hadassah. Eventually, the government felt pressured to "allow" the Jews to stay. It is due to them that there is still a Jewish presence in Hebron today.

I was lucky enough to meet some of the dedicated people living in the difficult conditions in Hebron today. One of these people, Shmuel Meidad, known by all as "Zhangis," gave us a tour of his building, Bet Hassan. Bet Hassan houses many local Jewish families. Later, we had the pleasure of stopping at the home of Rabbi Danny & Batsheva Cohen, Chabad rabbi and rebbetzin of Hebron. Each week they host hundreds of soldiers and feed many more who are on duty in the streets. Their house is a second home to the soldiers serving in Hebron. We also met Anat Cohen-Zar who lives in Hebron with three generations of family. She is related to the Zar family living here in Great Neck.

Despite the animosity surrounding them, the Jews there are well protected. Children walk alone at night, and there is a feeling of safety in the air. It is due to these residents of Hebron, to their love and dedication to our rich history in this holy city, that we are still able to visit there today. If not for these amazing people , we would be barred from visiting one of the places to which we are most connected on this earth.

Our heritage is carried on with these individuals.



Back in the '40s, a Jewish guy was arrested for smuggling guns into Israel, then known as Palestine. He was taken into one of the British prisons. While there, his wife writes him a letter decrying what a shlemazel he is. "Spring is coming and with you rotting in jail who will provide? Who will till the land? Who will plow the soil?"

The man comes up with an idea. He sends an urgent letter to his wife saying: "Please, my dear, whatever you do, don't touch the field this year. All my M1 rifles are hidden in the field!"

Sure enough, the letter is intercepted and the British take this very seriously. The next morning at 6 a.m. there are 200 armed guards at the man's fields waiting for dawn to break. As the sun rises, they attack the field with shovels and rakes, leaving no rock unturned.

When news gets back to the inmate, he writes a letter to his wife: "My dear, now that they have plowed the field, it is time to plant seeds!"

Behaalotcha , the Torah portion of the week dedicates a significant amount of verses in describing the journey of the Jewish people in the desert. At the very center of the Israelite camp stood the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that housed the Divine presence. Surrounding the Mishkan were the tents of the Kohanim andLevites who served in the Sanctuary. Beyond the Levite camp radiated, like the spokes of a wheel, the tent communities of the 12 tribes of Israel. The Jews had no GPS and no navigator- they traveled when the cloud which hovered above them llifted. There was no pre-set period for each encampment. Sometimes the cloud—and the people—stayed put for a year, sometimes for but a single night. There was lots of waiting time.

Come to think about it: All of our life is in-between time.

When we are teen-agers, we tell ourselves that when we graduate high school life begins. Soon we realize that, no, first we have to get our degree. We await that BA and MA, confident we will finally settle down and be content. Instead we find some crummy job, and tell ourselves, soon we will cultivate the right connections and put away enough cash to begin a start-up. Ah, that’s when life will begin…But wait, we tell ourselves, life did not begin yet. First we need to get married, purchase our own home, and then we can really begin to settle down and start living…

Rabbi ShlomobenAderet, known as the Rashba (1235-1310), was considered the leader of Spanish Jewry during his time. He served as rabbi of the Main Synagogue of Barcelona for 50 years. In addition, his reputation as an outstanding rabbinic authority was world renowned, and people from all over the world sent him questions regarding Jewish life and law. His over 3,000 responsa, which covers the entire gamut of Jewish life, are concise and widely quoted by halakhicauthorities since. If that were not enough, he was also the royal physician and Jews and gentiles from all over Spain came to consult with him as well. In addition, he headed a rabbinical college and delivered complex intricate lectures daily.

And yet—he managed to take a walk every day for health and relaxation!

How did he do it? How did he manage his time? What was the secret?

The Rebbe explained, “There is a concept called success in time. We cannot make our days longer, nor can we add additional hours to our nights. But we can maximize our usage of time by regarding each segment of time as a world of its own. When we devote a portion of time—whether it is an hour, a day or a minute—to a certain task, we should be totally invested in what we are doing, as if nothing else exists in the world.

You must of course be aware of the differences between important things and things of lesser importance, between means and ends, between journeys and destinations. But in whatever you are involved, you are fully there. You are never just "getting it done" or "getting it over with." When you are on the way to something, you are fully invested in being on the way to something.

Understand this is G-d’s will from you today. It is not by chance but meant to be.

This particular thing you are involved in contains the value, depth, and importance of permanence. True, your involvement may only last for one year, one month, or perhaps just one hour; nonetheless, doing this thing is not just a nuisance that you need to get it over with. NO! If it is a Divine instruction, then doing this has absolute value and significance.

From the true Torah perspective, there is no such thing as “real time” and in-between time. There is only one kind of time. There are long journeys and short journeys, there are large jobs and small jobs, there are obvious opportunities and situations in which we scratch our heads and wonder, "why are we here?" But all of time is real, every moment is crucial. Every segment of our lives, no matter how fleeting or temporary, has a purpose. It is what G-d wants from me now at this moment. It is therefore not only an obstacle to get over, but possesses meaning and magic all its own.

I am now in Israel in honor of my mother’s first yahrtzeit. I prayed at the kotel and at the grave of our forefathers in Chevron for my Great Neck family, that we all should have success in time and joy in what we do. May G-d watch over all of you.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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