By Rabbi Moshe Goodman, Kollel Ohr Shlomo, Hebron
The verse in this painting, found in this parsha, emphasizes the keeping of the mitzvot as a condition to Israel’s ability to settle in the Holy Land securely. This theme is conveyed most clearly by the image of Maarat Hamachpela, the houses and the trees.
Maarat Hamachpela here seems to represent the walking in the footsteps of our holy Patriarchs and Matriarchs, as they kept the mitzvot even before commanded according to our Sages [save for special exceptions such as sisters married by Yakov etc.] Tana Dvei Eliyahu (p. 23) takes this a step further by saying that every person should say “when shall my deeds reach the deeds of my Patriarchs?” Maarat Hamachpela is also a symbol of the covenant made with our Patriarchs, including the promise to give the Land to the their offspring, ideas directly related to the central verse here. Hebron as well is a symbol of covenant, as covenant represents connection/contract between parties, and Hebron means connection – hibur. Indeed, a verse says that Israel made a covenant with King David in Hebron before Hashem (Shmuel II 5, 2).
We see a white/blue house at the center which may represent the colors of the tzitzit, also a symbol of the mitzvot, as the verse says: “you shall see it and remember all my mitzvot.” The houses themselves also represent secured settlement in the Holy Land, as permanent dwelling structures. Note also that to the right/middle we see seven same-sized white-capped houses, the special Jewish number, grouped in close proximity of each other. The green/ferns on the houses, especially upon the central large house seem to connect this settlement also to vegetation, seeming to convey that just as vegetation grows and flourishes so too Israel’s settlement flourishes. Indeed, verses describe Israel’s settlement in the words “they shall be planted in their Land.” This leads us to the other dominant image/s in the painting: trees and vegetation.
The most noticeable of the trees is the large olive tree. The olive tree is known to live for many years, and therefore is a perfect example of secured long-lasting living and settlement in the Holy Land. Also our Sages say that Israel themselves are compared to olives. They also say that Israel are compared to grape-vines. Indeed, we see 22 grapevines in this painting grouped in the fashion that Sefer Yetzira groups the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, I.e groups of 3, 7, and 12.The group of 7 is seen adjacent to the large house to the left of the wall. The group of 3 is seen to the right of this wall just underneath Maarat Hamachpela. The group of 12 is seen to the far right, while being itself divided into three groups of four, just as the 12 tribes, considered to correlate the 12 letters mentioned in Sefer Yetzira, were divided in the Wilderness into encampments of three by four.