By Rabbi Yaakov (Jack) Bieler

Parashat Chaye Sara opens[1] and closes[2] with the purchase of, as well as two burials in Ma’arat HaMachpeila, one of Judaism’s holiest places.[3] The spiritual inspiration that an individual receives when he visits such a place is referenced by RaShI when accounting for an inconsistency in the story of the spies sent to scout the land of Israel prior to the expected entry of the Jewish people:

BaMidbar 13:22

And they (plural, referring to the entire group of spies) went up into the South, and he (singular, indicating a particular individual) came unto Chevron; and Achiman, Sheishai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were there.–Now Chevron was built seven years before Tzoan in Egypt.

RaShi d.h. VaYavo Ad Chevron

Kalev alone went there (to the Maarat HaMachpeila) and prostrated himself on the graves of the Forefathers (and Foremothers), so that he would not be influenced by his colleagues to join in their planning, and so it is said (Devarim 1:36) “Save Calev the son of Yefuneh, he shall see it (the land of Israel); and to him will I Give the land that he hath trodden upon, and to his children; because he hath wholly followed the LORD.” And it is written (Shoftim 1:20) “And they gave Chevron unto Calev , as Moshe had spoken; and he drove out thence the three sons of Anak.”

The fact that Calev maintained his independence, and ultimately supported the plan to enter the land of Israel, thereby defying ten of the other spies, suggests that prayer in such a special place is powerfully potent.

Another place associated with holiness and prayer is Kever Rachel,[4] the reputed burial place of the only one of the Foremothers not buried in Ma’arat HaMachpeila, her having died giving birth to Binyamin on the road back to Canaan,[5] at the conclusion of Yaakov’s many years in Charan. The location of Rachel’s grave on this ancient road gave rise to her spirit being envisioned as eternally crying and mourning for her children while they are marching off into the Babylonian as well as other exiles:

Yirmiyahu 31:14

Thus Saith the LORD: A voice is heard in Rama, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuseth to be comforted for her children, because they are not.

Kever Rachel, like the Temple Mount and Ma’arat HaMachpeila, has been a politically, militarily and religiously contested area during the modern period of Israeli history. Mosques mark Har HaBayit and the Ma’ara, and Kever Rachel is adjacent to an Arab cemetery. The tug-of- war for control of and jurisdiction over Kever Rachel since the 1967 Six Day War is documented at’s_Tomb in the section entitled “Israeli control”.[6]

But there is another, far less well-known, holy place mentioned in Parashat Chaye Sara.

Upon Rivka and Eliezer’s return to Canaan, they encounter Yitzchak:

Beraishit 24:62-3

And Yitzchak “Bah MiBoh” (was continually coming)[7] from Beer-Lachai-Roi; for he dwelt in the land of the South. And Yitzchak went out “LaSuach” (to meditate/pray) in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming.

Whereas these verses describe Yitzchak as often visiting this site, later we are told that he eventually takes up permanent residence there:

Ibid. 25:11

And it came to pass after the death of Avraham, that God Blessed Yitzchak his son; and Yitzchak dwelt by Beer-Lachai-Roi.

The reason to assume that this location drew Yitzchak because of its special spiritual significance is what happened there earlier on, that inspired the name by which the place became known in the Tora:

Ibid. 16:6-14

But Avram said unto Sarai: ‘Behold, thy maid (Hagar) is in thy hand; do to her that which is good in thine eyes.’ And Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her face. And the Angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain on the way to Shur. And he said: ‘Hagar, Sarai’s handmaid, whence camest thou? and whither goest thou?’ And she said: ‘I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.’ And the Angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.’ And the angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘I will greatly multiply thy seed, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the Angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son; and thou shalt call his name Yishmael, because the LORD hath Heard thy affliction. And he shall be a wild ass of a man: his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the face of all his brethren.’ And she called the Name of the LORD that Spoke unto her, “Thou art a God of Seeing”; for she said: ‘Have I even here seen Him that Seeth Me?’ Wherefore the well was called ‘Beer-Lachai-Roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

RaMBaN suggests that Yitzchak would regularly visit the site as a pilgrim in search of spiritual consolation:

RaMBaN on Beraishit 24:62

…And it is possible that because the word “MiBo” is the infinitive form, that Yitzchak would continually go to this place, because for him it was a place of prayer due to the revelation there of an Angel (to Hagar), and he lived in the South, close to the place (to facilitate his regular visits).

In effect, RaMBaN connects the Talmud’s interpretation of the phrase in Ibid. 24:63, “And Yitzchak went out to meditate/pray in the field at the eventide”—

Berachot 26b

Yitzchak instituted the afternoon prayer, as it says, “And Yitzchak went out to meditate/pray in the field at eventide,” and “LaSu’ach/Sicha” (‘meditation’) means only prayer, as it says, (Tehillim 102:1) “A prayer of the afflicted when he fainteth and poureth out “Sicho” (his meditation) before the Lord.”[8]

with “Beer-Lachai-Roi”, suggesting that just as in the case of Calev, who according to the RaShI cited above, sought out Ma’arat HaMachpeila to try to assure that he would do the right thing and stand up to the pressure of his colleagues, Yitzchak too sought out a historical, spiritual setting in order to connect to HaShem. R. Binny Lau[9] goes a step further and sees a deep connection between Hagar when she first fled from Sara’s harsh treatment, and Yitzchak who had been separated from his older step-brother, Yishmael,[10] almost sacrificed by his father Avraham, and grappling with the death of his mother, Sara. As an explanation for what happened to Yitzchak following the Akeida in Braishit 22,[11]  R. Lau writes:

Yitchak went to the place associated with those who have wandered away from Avraham’s house. This well is a place of prayer that flows from a profoundly pained and lonely heart.[12]

In contrast to the three holiest sites in Israel, Beer-Lachai-Roi’s location is unknown. Archaeologists assume that it was a settlement somewhere in the central Negev. Some even identify it with Ein Avdat.[13] However, it would seem that this place conceptually has more in common with the Temple Mount, than either Maarat HaMachpeila or Kever Rachel. The latter two locations are burial grounds, where we recall the lives of exceptional but nevertheless mortal individuals who are no longer with us. The former places are associated with Revelations of the Living and eternal God, Who not only Continues to inspire us by His Immanent Presence, rather than a mere memory of Him, but Assures us that we are continually “Seen”. Avraham was struck by an intense sense of Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Personal Supervision) at the Akeida, when he was stopped from sacrificing his son,

Beraishit 22:14

And Avraham called the name of that place HaShem-Yireh (lit. God Who Sees); as it is said to this day: ‘In the mount where the LORD is seen.’

The reason given in the Tora for the pilgrimage festivals, whereby Jews regularly travelled to Yerushalayim and the Temple atop Har HaBayit on Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, reinforced Avraham’s observation for later generations:

Shemot 23:17

Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD.

Ibid. 34:23

Three times in the year shall all thy males appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.

Chagiga 2a

Yochanan b. Dahabai said in the name of R. Yehuda: A man who is blind in one eye is exempt from appearing [at the Temple] as it is said: “Yir’eh” (He will See), “Yeira’eh” (he will be seen) (Taking advantage of the Tora’s being devoid of vowels, the word spelled “Yud-Reish-Alef-Heh” could be read in the active [i.e., the pilgrim will see] as well as the passive [the pilgrim will be seen by God] modes.)

Even in the absence of the Jerusalem Temple, when we pray in the synagogue that is described as a Mikdash Me’at (a “mini” Temple) or HaShem’s special Me’on (dwelling place) in Megilla 29a,[14] we should strive to experience what Avraham, Yitzchak and subsequent pilgrims felt when they sought out Holy Places.

Originally appears on Rabbi Bieler’s website “Rayanot Yaakov”


[1] Beraishit 23:3-20

And Avraham rose up from before his dead, and spoke unto the children of Cheth, saying: ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’ And the children of Cheth answered Avraham, saying unto him: ‘Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us; in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.’ And Avraham rose up, and bowed down to the people of the land, even to the children of Cheth. And he spoke with them, saying: ‘If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Tzohar, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in the midst of you for a possession of a burying-place.’ Now Ephron was sitting in the midst of the children of Cheth; and Ephron the Chittite answered Avraham in the hearing of the children of Cheth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying: ‘Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee; bury thy dead.’ And Avraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he spoke unto Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying: ‘But if thou wilt, I pray thee, hear me: I will give the price of the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.’ And Ephron answered Avraham, saying unto him: ‘My lord, hearken unto me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.’ And Avraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Avraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the children of Cheth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. So the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the border thereof round about, were made sure unto Avraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Cheth, before all that went in at the gate of his city. And after this, Avraham buried Sara his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre–the same is Chevron–in the

land of Canaan. And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Avraham for a possession of a burying-place by the children of Cheth.

[2] Ibid. 25:8-10

And Avraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. And Yitzchak and Yishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Tzohar the Chittite, which is before Mamre; the field which Avraham purchased of the children of Cheth; there was Avraham buried, and Sara his wife.

[3] The place with the most extensive “Kedushat Makom” (holiness of place) is the Temple Mount in Yerushalayim, which is deemed to maintain its sanctity even after the Temples were destroyed.

[4] An article by Ester Katz Silvers, entitled “Tears at Rachel’s Tomb”§ion=/jw/id identifies Kever Rachel as “Judaism’s third holiest site”, while the home page of Mosdos Kever Rachel designates this place as “the Jewish Second Holiest Site”

[5] Beraishit 35:19-20

And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath–the same is Beth-lechem. And Yaakov set up a pillar upon her grave; the same is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

[6] A particularly poignant account of events in 1995 is recorded in Yossi Klein HaLevi’s enthralling Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation (HarperCollins, New York, 2013, pp. 506-7, 510):

As part of the next phase of the Oslo process, the government of Israel was negotiating the transfer of Palestinian rule of Rachel’s Tomb, on the border between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Rachel’s Tomb was among the most beloved places of Jewish pilgrimage, especially for single young women seeking husbands. Jewish women marched in protest from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Right-wing politicians denounced Rabin’s insensitivity as a form of madness.

Sensing a threat to the tomb Hanan (Porat) organized a group of Merkaz students to establish a Yeshiva in the small domed building. The government body in charge of holy places forbade the group from bringing in books and furniture. But after each visit the yeshiva students “forgot” religious books and thereby created a small library. And then one night students brought in tables and chairs via a back entrance through the adjacent Muslim cemetery. Classic Hanan: create facts on the ground and force the government to live with it.

The growing public protests forced the government to modify its plan: Rachel’s Tomb would remain under Israeli military protection, but Palestinian police would patrol the road leading to the tomb. That arrangement, said Hanan bitterly, was reminiscent of the time of Exile when Jews visited Mother Rachel under foreign rule.

Hanan went to see Rabin. The two men had a complicated relationship. Rabin hadn’t forgiven Hanan for the mass squatting at Sebastia, which Rabin blamed for undermining the stability of his first government. But then, during the 1992 elections, when the Likud made a campaign issue of Rabin’s temporary breakdown on the eve of the Six Day Way, Hanan publicly defended the prime minister, and Rabin’s door was open to him.

While waiting to enter the prime minister’s office, Hanan encountered R. Menachem Porush, a venerable, ultra-Orthodox politician with a long white beard. Hanan told Porush that he’d come to plead for Mother Rachel. Porush asked if he could join the meeting. By all means, said Hanan.

Hanan opened by spreading out a large aerial photograph of the area around Rachel’s Tomb. Hanan sensed that the way to reach Rabin was through security rather than historical arguments. Hanan noted the close proximity betwee Rachel’s Tomb and the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. If Palestinian police controlled the road to the tomb, he argued, they would be in shooting distance of Gilo’s Jewish homes.

Suddenly Porush approached Rabin, embraced him, and began weeping. “This is Mama Ruchel!” he cried out, using the Yiddish for Mother Rachel. “How can you give away her grave?”

Rabin, embarrassed, asked Porush to calm himself. “How can I calm myself?” cried Porush. “The Jewish people won’t forgive you if you abandon our mother’s grave.”

In the presence of the two men, Rabin phoned Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Renegotiate the arrangements for Rachel’s Tomb said Rabin.

The road to the holy site remained under Israeli rule… It was Saturday night, November 4, 1995…

When Shabbat ended Hanan Porat set out toward Bethlehem, to Rachel’s Tomb.

According to tradition this night was the anniversary of the death of Mother Rachel, and Hanan intended to join the thousands of pilgrims gathering at her grave.

He turned on the radio and heard the news. Unable to continue, he pulled over to the side of the road. To keep from crying out, he bit his lip–so hard he drew blood. He thought of his last meeting with Rabin, how the prime minister of Israel could not resist the grief of an elderly Jew for Mother Rachel. And now Mother Rachel is weeping for her son, Yitzchak–

[7] This is RaMBaN’s understanding of the verb, which will be expanded upon below.

[8] R. Lau notes that whereas other verses could have been cited in order to demonstrate that “Siach” connotes prayer, e.g.,

Tehillim 104:33-4

I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have any being. Let “Sichi” (my musing/prayer)  be sweet unto Him; as for me, I will rejoice in the LORD.

the choice of Tehillim 102:1 was because of the reference to “the afflicted” which captures Yitzchak’s staste of mind when he was praying at this point in his life.

[9] Etnachta: Kriyot BeParashat HaShavua, Vol. 1, Yediot Acharonot, Tel Aviv, 2009, p. 65.

[10] Notably, whereas, probably because of RaShI on Beraishit 21:9, it is generally thought that Yitzchak would have been relieved when Yishmael, who according to the commentator had regularly attempted to corrupt and even kill his younger brother, was finally gone, R. Lau depicts him as saddened by the departure of his playmate and peer.

[11] The Tora never says that Yitzchak accompanies Avraham down Har HaMoria, after the Angel Commands Avraham not to harm his son:

Beraishit 22:19

So Avraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beer-sheva; and Avraham dwelt at Beer-sheva.

While one of the explanations offered by the Midrash was that he was sent by his father to study in the Yeshiva of Shem VeEver, R. Lau imagines that Yitzchak wanted to be alone and went to live in the desert.

[12] R. Lau quotes the bolded lines from the following poem in order to describe the effects of Beer-Lachai- Roi upon people like Hagar and Yitzchak:

בסוף הדרך / נתן יונתן בכל מקום

יש תהום לאמיצים

וצל לעייפים

ומעיין שקרירותו ניגרת.

בכל שחרית יש טל לרועדים ואור לאוהבים

ואבנים קרות ועשב פרא.

בכל ערבית יש קץ לסוערים ועץ לערירים

וסלע לשוכבים בסוף הדרך.

[13] Ein Avdat (Hebrew: עבדת עין) or Ein Ovdat is a canyon in the Negev Desert of Israel, south of Kibbutz Sde Boker. Archaeological evidence shows that Ein Avdat was inhabited by Nabateans and Catholic monks. Numerous springs at the southern opening of the canyon empty into deep pools in series of waterfalls. The water emerges from the rock layers with salt-loving plants like Poplar trees and Atriplexes growing nearby…

[14] (Yechezkel 11:16) “Yet have I Been to them as a little sanctuary.” R. Isaac said: This refers to the synagogue and houses of learning in Babylon. R. Eleazar says: This refers to the house of our teacher in Babylon. Raba gave the following exposition: What is the meaning of the verse, (Tehillim 90:1) “Lord, thou hast Been our dwelling [Ma’on] place”? This refers to synagogues and houses of learning. Abaye said: Formerly I used to study at home and pray in the synagogue, but when I noticed the words of David, (Ibid. 26:8) “O Lord, I love the habitation [Me’on] of thy house”, I began to study also in the synagogue.

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