Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Chayei Sara
To dedicate this lesson

The Israeli Conquest of Hevron and the Machpelah Cave, 1967

In honor of Parashat Chaye Sarah, which recounts the story of the Patriarch Abraham's purchase of the Machpelah Cave in Hebron


Oded Mizrachi

Cheshvan 22 5782
by Oded Mizrahi, translated by Hillel Fendel

(based on a book by Avi Rath, based in turn on Rav Goren's taped memoirs)

In honor of Parashat Chaye Sarah, which recounts the story of the Patriarch Abraham's purchase of the Machpelah Cave in Hebron

Following the conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, where IDF Chief Rabbi famously blew the shofar and conducted the first prayer service at the Western Wall in 19 years, Maj.-Gen. Rabbi Goren traveled southward to Hebron. After passing Gush Etzion, which had fallen to Jordan the day the State of Israel was declared, he saw white flags of surrender on many of the houses – but just before Hebron, he saw a Jordanian flag on the 3rd floor of a house. "They might still try to fight us," the driver warned. Rav Goren said, "Give me the Uzi [rifle] and cover me. I'm going up to take it down."

The driver said, "But they could shoot you! I'll go up." Rav Goren refused: "You're still young and you have to build a family. I'll go up, and whatever happens will happen!" One of the soldiers accompanied him to the second floor, Rav Goren climbed up another story, took down the flag, and said to the residents, "Salaam Aleikum" on his way down. They didn't say a word.

As they entered Hebron, they saw all the buildings along the road draped in white sheets. The mayor and the military forces there had decided to declare a closure, forbidding all residents to leave their homes. Rav Goren wanted to tell them that they were actually no longer in charge, as the IDF had captured the city – even though at this point, its only presence was the jeep in which he himself was travelling…

In the center of town stood a small platform on which would stand a policeman to direct traffic. Rav Goren climbed atop it, and fired a full magazine of bullets into the air, thus informing the city residents that the IDF had taken over the city.

Rav Goren later related that his goal was to be first to reach the Machpelah Cave [Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs]. He remembered his previous visit there, when he arrived with his then-fiancee, Tzviyah, the daughter of the Nazir, Rabbi David Cohen, prime student of Rav Kook. He remembered that the Arabs there had almost lynched the couple on that occasion when suddenly a British policeman arrived on the scene like Eliyahu HaNavi to save them at the last second.

Rav Goren saw a youth standing there and asked him in Arabic, "Where is the gravesite of the Patriarch Abraham? Take us there." The boy said he was afraid to accompany them because of the curfew, but Rav Goren said his driver would return him home, and they set out on their way. When they arrived, Rav Goren found the holy site locked. "Iftah el-bab! Open the gate!" he yelled out. Voices answered from within, "We have no keys!" Rav Goren realized this was a lie, for how could they have gotten in without keys? But he did not bother arguing with them and tried to shoot his way in. But the gates would not budge. He then circled the Cave from all sides, looking for an entrance. Finally an IDF tank arrived on the scene, adorned with a makeshift Israeli flag. The Israelis took the flag and hung it on the Machpelah Cave – after many centuries during which Jews were forbidden to enter.

Rav Goren and the tank driver took an iron rod, placed it between the gates, and started pulling back and forth – until the hinges came out, the gates fell to the floor, and the Machpelah Cave opened before them. Inside were two Arabs, shaking with fear like lulavim. One of them was holding over 30 keys, which they grabbed from him. The driver felt that this Arab should be shot on the spot, but Rav Goren did not agree; instead, the driver smacked the two of them in the face for having refused an order to open the gate.

Rav Goren entered the cave, blew the shofar, and began to pray with the soldiers – thus restoring the ancient site, the 2nd holiest in Judaism after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to its Jewish roots.

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