What makes this letter fun is that (as some of you know) it goes out to quite a variety of my friends. They range from my dear sem girls, to Neve students current and far less so, to some acquaintances who are Very Frum and some who are definitely not, besides a sprinklingof relatives and friends from various episodes in the Ongoing Drama life.
Last week I sincerely wish that I could have had you all with me. Each one of you belongs at the places that I saw. I was in the south and in the north on a sort of pilgrimage to the places where the great tzadikim of Eretz Yisrael are buried. This journey took me to Chevron, Netivot, Sajour (a Druze village where Rabi Yishmael Kohen Gadol is buried), Pekiin where the cave that Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai hid for 13 years is buried deep in a carob forest, Tiveria where we stood before Rabi Akiva and the Ramchal (author of Path of the Just), and finally the ongoing feast and festival that takes place more or less constantly at the tomb of Rabi Meir in Tiveria. As some of you know, I had been going to Uman that last few years. The time had come to go back to where things started.
Why kivrei tzadikim?
One of the most evocative lines in shir HaShirim is “The King brought me into His chambers”. In context, this means that Hashem, the ultimate King has given his beloved People the privilege to enter a relationship that is intimate. Knowing someone physically is nowhere near as close and personal as knowing their inner thoughts and feelings. The Torah is Hashem’s will and His wisdom, when you learn, both your mind and His share thoughts and assumptions about life and far far more. Tanna D’Vei Eliahu, an early Midrash explains the verse as meaning that each person has their own chamber, their own unique path in knowing G-d. Each chamber is unlike any other chamber. The chamber of each tzadik reveals his closeness to Hashem. Because tzadikim use their bodies to express their souls, there is a degree of connection that you can experience when you are at their resting places. The first place that we went to were the tombs of Ruth and Yishai, who are buried together on a hill that overlooks the Mearat Hamachpeilah (tomb of the patriarchal and matriarchs in Chevron). There are a few Jewish houses as you approach the top of the hill, and some archeological findings in what is called Tel Romeidah. When you get to the peak, there is a military structure with two flights of stairs that take you to a quiet beautiful stretch that is surprisingly flat. The tombs are side by side. I had been there many times, but this time was different. I large group of Russian Jews made their way up just as we arrived. They were so moved when their guide gave them insight into what a bridge between now and our early history. I can only imagine the nachas that Ruth and Yishai had in seeing their long lost children return to the city where their son and grandson, David, began his rule.
From there we went to the Mearah itself. As always, once you go up the stairs time doesn’t exist anymore. You are there with the bigger than life figures who live inside of you. I never knew quite what to do with this feeling. This year, I saw a new sefer by Rav Gamliel on the holy sites in Israel. He writes that when you enter a place like this, there are practices that you can do to give the experience greater force and meaning. The first thing is to give a bit of tzedakah. This takes you into the headset of giving and of spirituality than getting and physical sensation. You then light a candle (virtually all of the holy places have metal stands where candles can be set down after they are lit). This is to affirm that you see clearly that the human soul is Hashem’s candle. The tzadikim shed enormous light. Then you offer a short tefillah to Hashem asking that He give you the ability to know what to say, and what to be as you stand there. After that, it’s time to step back into yourself and reflect on what these lives really tell you about your own life. If you can study something about them from the Torah, you will bring more merit both to yourself and to them. Finally you ask for what you can take on yourself (even something very small, even very temporarily) in their merit. Then you are ready to begin to pray.
After we davened (for an hour which felt like a minute) we all went down to eat. There is now a large well lit and nicely furnished room (with a coffee urn, cold water, long tables and white plastic chairs) where you can eat lunch, have sheva brachos, celebrate a bris, or any other use that you can think of, all for no payment whatsoever. Very Avrahamic.
From there we got back on the bus and headed south. The desert speaks its own language, and some of us could hear it, while most of us either slept or listened to the music that the driver put on for us. We finally arrived in Netivot; the kever of Baba Sali is there. A booklet was on the table. It had a brief narrative of his life’s story. He was born to four generations of famous scholars and kabbalists. He imitated their practices from his mid childhood. The Kings of Morocco venerate the rabbis, but when almost all of the Jews of Morocco left to make aliya to Israel, he was there with his people. He chose to settle in Netivot, a desert settlement town. When we arrived at our destination the Moshav Bar Yochai about 10 minutes from Meiron we were exhausted. A good meal, a morning swim and an unbelievable tefillah in Meiron, and we were off!
The reason I am telling you all of this (and will tell you more next week!) is that I love you, wish you were with me, and want to take you there vicariously. The chambers are open, real, and easy to access even by hearing about them.