The Torah's messages are eternal. How does any of this change your life in Cleveland or in Melbourne? Let's look deeper.
Chevron isn't the sort of place that you would go for if you were touring, at least not this week. The descendants of Yishmael, the Arabs, have made the Tomb of the Patriarchs the core of their battle against all things Jewish. A fascinating fact is that Yishmael, their anscestor, had a completely opposite relationship to the Cave of Machpeilah at the end of the story than he had at the beginning of the story…Upon Avraham's death, Yishmael insisted that Yitzchak, as the true heir of Avraham's spiritual legacy, enter the tomb first, leaving him to enter second.
What was the conflict between Yishamael and Yitzchak like, and what does anything about it have to do with the contemporary world?
When Yitzchak was born, Yishmael was thirteen. Two years later, he was caught shooting arrows at his two-year-old brother. What Sarah found so appalling about this was that Yishamael was laughing. Much as Hagar, his mother, maintained that she was Avraham's true wife, since she conceived immediately, he claimed that he was the true heir since he agreed to circumcision at the age of thirteen, an age when he could have bolted or at least refused. Yitzchak was circumcised as an eight-day-old infant, and had no choice. Both Hagar and Yishamael had one issue. "I have to prove myself as first, because in my heart I dread being second." Yishmael reappears years later. He has changed. When Avraham passed, Yishmael entered the Cave of Machpeilah after Yitzchak. He realized that Yitzchak was the true heir, and that entering the Machpeilah first was his honest prerogative. He had come to realize that a covenant with G-d that was inherent was on a different, higher, and more authentic plane than one that you can choose into (or not..). Yitzchak's path was self-negation to Hashem's will, not egocentric spiritual victory.
Why was the Cave so important? The Midrash tells us when Avraham awaited guests three days after his circumcision, Hashem sent three angels in the guise of humans. This is to tell us the reason that he was worthy of interacting with the transcendent forces with which Hashem concretizes His will, the angels. He reached this level by the same negation ego that later was Yitzchak's hallmark. Imagine being the kind of person who would find it frustrating to not have guests to serve even after having undergone what must have been a difficult and painful procedure for a man his age. Look how far his yearning to do Hashem's will went! In those days, tongue was a delicacy, and he wanted to serve each guest an entire tongue. In order to do so, he had to fell three oxen. One of them escaped. He chased it until it entered a cave. Instead of giving up, he ran into the cave, and finally found himself in a chamber that was luminescent with spiritual force.
It was at that moment that he decided that this is where he wants to be buried. Why burial? Why here? The city surrounding the cave was called Kiryat Arba the village of the four. This hints at the four couples who ultimately would be buried there, Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and RIvka, and Yaakov and Leah. Obviously, this couldn't have been the reason that people called the city Kiryat Arba in Avraham's time. Only one of the four, Adam and Chava were buried there at the time. it. Rashi tells us that there is another reason that it was called Kiryat Arba. It was after the four giants who had made it their home. Maharal asks an interesting question; who cares?
He answers by telling you that the number four hints at the four material properties from which all life is formed, fire water earth and air. In modern language, we might possibly refer to this as energy, liquid, minerals and oxygen. In earlier times, the mind-body connection was more apparent. The giants of that era were giants of spirit, not just large men. Something drew them to this place. What was it?
It was the last stop. They saw it as the place where the four elements begin the process of disintegration. If Yerushalaim is the place of birth in the most profound sense of the word, Chevron is the ultimate place of death and burial. It's the place where ego dies. The two worlds, Olam Hazeh and Olam Haba, meet here.
Yishmael grasped that Yitzchak's path led here, not his endless need to "win". There is no promise that his descendants will ever have the clarity of thought to do what Yishamael did. They may come to it on their own, or they may not. At this point, it is very clear: they are doing battle to make the Mearat Machpeilah their own; to them it is still all about victory. This can be very frightening.
Fear isn't always all that bad. It tells you that G-d is addressing you, and through the events that you witness. You may see his presence, or you may just feel the fear. There is what Lekutei Moharan calls "fallen fear", meaning the awe that you are meant to feel when you realize that only He controls events, spirals downward. You are afraid of the knife and the man who holds it. But this is only one scenario. Look further. You are afraid of death and afraid of life. You are afraid of being alone, and of being with someone imperfect (which of course is everyone). You are afraid of losing your job, or staying in it the rest of your life. You are afraid of childlessness, and afraid that your children will disappoint you. You can be afraid that victory in all of its disguises will always stay evasive. You can live a life of quiet desperation without experiencing anything even remotely resembling tragedy. This can happen in Cleveland or Melbourne just as easily as in Yeushalayim.
You can live with Hashem, and regard life and death as two sides of one coin. You can rejoice in being a work in process, and feel at home with the rest of us imperfect beings. You can take every day on its own terms, and find joy in being the person you want to be. You can feel gratitude and inner happiness without experiencing anything remotely resembling winning the lottery, The key is seeing both worlds at the same time, and being in the consciousness of Maarat HaMachpeilah no matter how far you are from Chevron geographically.