History

Hebron in the Talmud

A collection of references to Hebron in the Talmud.

28.8.16, 15:47
The city of Hebron is mentioned numerous times in the Mishna and Talmud. The following is brief collection.
 
Hebron and the Temple Mount
 
Mishnah Yoma 3:1 
 
This section of Tractate Yoma deals with the Yom Kippur services in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem which was to take place as soon as it was light.
 
The officer said to them: Go forth and see whether the time for the morning sercies has arrived. If it had arrived, then he who saw it said: It is daylight! 
 
Mathia Ben Samuel,  the officer in charge of the counts said: the whole east is alight. Even unto Hebron? And he answered, yes, even unto Hebron. And why was that considered necessary? Because once when the light of the moon rose they thought that the east was alight and began the continual offering, which afterwards they had to take away.
 
The Gemara adds: For the choice of Hebron, the Jerusalem Talmud suggests that city was mentioned for its historical importance; because of the Cave of Machpela, in which the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Israel are buried.
 
When the sky is clouded the light coming from the moon may be confused with that of the sun. But it never reaches as far as the latter, hence the question of the officer whether the horizon is alight even unto Hebron. 
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Three Purchases

The Cave of Machpelah was the first land purchase by a Jew in Eretz Yisrael. For this reason it is a unique site in the annals of Jewish history.

This idea is expressed in the following Midrash (Biblical commentary). (Genesis/Beresheet Rabba 79:7)

Said Rabbi Yuden the son of Simon: ” This is one of the three places that the nations (of the world) can never castigate the Jewish people and say “you are occupying stolen territory”. These are the three places: The Cave of the Machpelah [in Hebron], the Holy Temple Mount [in Jerusalem] and Joseph’s burial site [in Shchem]. The Cave of the Machpelah because it is said: ”And Abraham counted out to Ephron the money he had spoken of to the sons of Het--four hundred shekels of valid currency”  (Genesis 23:16).
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Machpela’s Purchase – / Likened to the Decalogue in Importance

A special significance is attributed by Jewish scholars to the purchase of the Cave of the Machpelah as they compare it to the Ten Commandments: 

“Said Rabbi Eliezer: How much ink is spilled and how many quills are worn out in the writing of the words: ‘The sons of Het’, (who sold the site to Abraham) [for these words, ‘the sons of Het’ are mentioned] ten times-corresponding to the same number of the Ten Commandments”. (Genesis Rabba 58:8).
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Caleb Praying at the Machpela
 
Moses sent twelve people to scout the land of Israel following the exodus from Egypt. Ten of the scouts brought bcak negative reports of a land filled with "giants" and declared their desire to remain in the desert rather than attempt to ascend to the Land of Israel. Only two, Joshua and Caleb, remained faithful. Caleb’s prayer in the Cave of Machpelah carries a very clear message about the importance and significance of the cave:
 
“And they ascended in the Negev and he came to Hebron” (Numbers 13:22) 
 
It should have said:"”and they came..." Ravah explains: "It (the grammar form) teaches us that Caleb separated from the counsel of the scouts and went to pray in the cave alone. He said to them: “Fathers, beg for me that I be saved from the scouts’ counsel." (Bavli Sotah 34b)
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Caleb's Inheritance
 
Caleb also received his portion directly from God and not through the lottery, as it is written: “And they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had spoken; and he drove out from there the three sons of the giant” (Judges 1:20). The Gemara asks about this verse: But Hebron was a city of refuge that belonged to the priests, as described in the book of Joshua (21:13); how could it have been given to Caleb? Abaye said: Its outskirts [parvaraha], i.e., only the fields and vineyards lying beyond the city limits, were given to Caleb. As it is written: “But the fields of the city, and the villages thereof, they gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for his possession” (Joshua 21:12).
 
 
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When Esau Tried to Steal Jacob’s Burial Spot

Despite Jacob having purchased his burial plot in the cave for a veritable fortune, his children had to reclaim the Cave of the Machpelah again, this time with a fight. This event appears in a few Midrashic commentaries as well:

As the twelve sons of Jacob and their families arrived at the Machpelah Cave for their father's burial, Esau his twin brother came and prevented their entry. He said: “At Mamre which is Kiryat Arba, there are four couples destined to be buried. Jacob buried Leah in his portion and the one remaining is mine!” 

They said to him, "You sold it!"

He said, "Indeed I sold my birthright, I did not sell my rights on the land!"

They said, "Yes you did, since it is said (by Jacob) the land which I had dug (purchased) (Genesis 50:5) and "digging" in this context means purchase.
 
Esau: “Bring me the deed!”
 
“It is in Egypt and who is going to get it? Let Naphtali go for he is as light as a gazelle, as it is said: ‘Naphtali is an antelope let loose who gives good words’” (Genesis 49:21).
 
Hushim the son of Dan was there and he was hard of hearing [some translate he was deaf] and he said: “What is this?”
 
“He (Esau) is preventing the burial until Naphtali returns from Egypt,” answered the brothers.
 
“And until he returns my grandfather will lie here disgracefully,”concluded Hushim.
 
Hushim then took a big sword and hit Esau on the head; he died and his head rolled by Jacob's feet. At that moment Jacob opened his eyes and smiled. As it is said: ”The righteous will rejoice when he sees revenge; his feet will bathe in the blood of the wicked.” (Psalms 58:11). (Talmud Bavli 13b).
 
Today, one of the cenotaphs in Tomb of Machepla complex is identified as that of Esau's head. The Muslims refer to it as the Tomb of Joseph, although the historical site of the Tomb of Joseph is located in Shechem.
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Even the Satan admits to Abraham’s loyalty to G-d

Even the Satan [the adversarial prosecutor in Jewish esoteric tradition], according to our sages, admits to Abraham’s loyalty to G-d; especially after this trial of the cave purchase:

And it came to pass and the angels came in front of G-d and among them came Satan. 
 
And God asked the Satan: ”From where do you come?” Answers the Satan:
 
“From walking and sojourning in the world.” And the Satan continues: ”Master of the universe, I sojourned through the entire world and I did not find a loyal servant as your servant Abraham to whom you said: ”Rise and walk through the land to its length and breadth for I will give it to you.” And even after that promise, he did not doubt you when he did not find a place to bury his wife Sarah. (Tractate Baba Batra 15b).
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Defying Death to Assist Us

In a very deep spiritual dimension, though asleep, dead and buried, the Forefathers beg for their children: “The rabbis have taught: Six (people) were not under the jurisdiction of the angel of death: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron and Miriam...” (Talmud Bavli: Baba Batra 17a)
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Why Elijah Tarried
 
According to the Talmud, it is Elijah the prophet who will awaken the Forefathers. This talmudic tale tells us that Elijah the Prophet was accustomed to visit Rebbi’s (Rabbi Judah the Prince) Yeshiva.

One day, the first of the Jewish month, Rebbi awaited him but he never came. When he finally came Rebbi asked Elijah why he tarried?
 
He answered that he goes to the Cave of the Machpelah and waits until he awakens Abraham who washes his hands and prays as do Isaac and Jacob.
 
Asked Rebbi: ”Why don’t you raise them all at once?
 
Elijah answered: “So great is their prayer that if they will all pray at once -they might bring the Messiah before his time.”
(Talmud Bavli: Baba Metsiah 85b)
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Special thanks to the Machpela website for this collection.
 
To arrange a guided tour of Hebron contact us:
 
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In Israel contact the offices of the Jewish Community of Hebron at:
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