By Rabbi Moshe Goodman, Kollel Ohr Shlomo, Hebron בס”ד
Discovering the Holy Presence in The Holy Land
And They Left Ur Kasdim to Go to the Land of Canaan
The word Canaan appears first in the Torah in this parsha. We find this term used at opposite extremes. First, this term is used in the context of the son of Ham, who was cursed by Noah, whose offspring are the Canaanite tribes, which the Torah shuns at their immorality and commands that they be destroyed when preventing Israel’s conquest of the Land of Israel. On the other hand, the term Canaan is used constantly in the Torah to refer to the holiest Land on earth, the Land of Israel. If Canaan has a negative connotation, it may befit that the Torah change its name and not refer to it constantly in the context of the immoral nations that inhabited it. What sense can be made of this? The verb root of Canaan – k.n.a – literally means “to be humbled/subdued.” We can say that the attribute of “submission” can have two opposite consequences. One can be in such a submissive/”lowly” state that one will not even regard one’s Godly lofty soul, leading one to take on “lowly,” i.e., immoral behaviour. On the other hand, “submission” can be submission before God, humility in its loftiest state, becoming a pure vessel for the Godly Light to shine through one’s essence. This is the level of the Holy Land which is the resting place of God’s Holy Presence. Thus, this submission/humility of the Holy Land is one of its greatest praises, calling us also to be enveloped and inspired by this lofty trait.
At the end of this parsha we are told that Avraham left Ur Kasdim to go to the Land of Canaan, but then stopped in Haran, till he was commanded by Hashem, in next week’s parsha to go to the Land of Israel. The Zohar adds that Avraham searched all places on the globe for the Holy Presence and found it in the Land of Israel, even before being commanded by HaShem to go to this Land (Zohar I 78a). This, and many similar teachings of our Sages stress the importance of human initiative, “itaruta delatata”, as being crucial in triggering Heavenly aid from Above, “itaruta del’eila.” Indeed, one of the signs of proper humility is that that instills one to take positive action and does not suppress one from doing so.
From this we can infer the high value of all efforts made towards the Land of Israel, whether in thought, speech, and definitely action, and of course visiting the Land of Israel, even if one is not able to permanently dwell here.
Similarly, it was through Kaleb’s first “visit” to Hebron that he merited to imbibe within himself the inspiration of Hebron to talk in praise of the Holy Land despite the other spies, thereby meriting to fully settle in this city many years later, as ordained by Hashem (Dvarim 1, 36). Indeed, this is Hebron, the City of Lofty Initiative, Beacon of the Holy Land!
During the Crusader period, a church stood at Maarat Hamachpela, and Jews and Muslims alike were severely persecuted by the Christians. During those days, there was a righteous Jewish figure who lived in Hebron named Meir ben Eliyahu. Meir would walk through the streets of Hebron during those days, distraught with thoughts, after seeing the Crusader’s statues and the crucifix, which for its sake many Jewish communities had been butchered by the Crusaders then: “what has become of us? Avraham our Father rebelled against his father, destroyed his statues, and sacrificed his life for such, and now masses of statues are on his tomb?!” And then a wind of zealousness passed upon Meir, and he secretly destroyed the statues on a daily basis. Only several months later were the Crusaders able to discover who had been destroying their statues daily, and they took him hostage [without telling his wife or the Jewish community] to be taken to Rome, so they could take their revenge against him… Nevertheless, the Crusaders knew that Meir was a holy man, and they did not dare shed his blood, but rather they wished to take him to Rome to “influence” him to convert to Christianity… Years passed. On one eve of Yom Kippur, Meir walked between lines of trees in Rome, longing intensely to observe Yom Kippur, but he knew he couldn’t, for he was in captivity! Suddenly, Meir saw someone who looked like a monk passing by him singing songs of the Days of Awe. Perplexed, Meir thought this man was either mad or a Jew that had converted to Christianity. Nevertheless, the man turned to Meir, saying, “I am a Jew, Meir ben Eliyahu, from Hebron!” After awakening from what seemed to be a dream, the two designated a time to meet after Yom Kippur. Then, just after Sukkot, the two fled together on the same night. After a long, tumultuous journey, Meir arrived home in Hebron, and the whole city was amazed at the return of the captive. Sefer Hebron p. 308