(Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Tomb of the Patriarchs

Hebron is one of the places in Israel that has the deepest meaning to me.

By Nosson Shulman, Licensed Tour Guide

“They… spied out the land…and arrived at Hebron where there (lived)…the offspring of the giant…They (the spies) returned after spying out the land (of Israel) at the end of 40 days…They…said…the people that dwells in the Land is powerful, the cities have massive and big walls.” (Numbers 13: 21-28)

My tourists often ask where my favorite place in Israel is to guide. As a licensed tour guide whose heart is tied to the entire land, it is difficult to pick a favorite because I love it all! However, there are two places that have the deepest meaning for me; Tzfat and Hebron, where we will be touring today.

Although slightly more visited than some of the sites I have written about, most groups still do not come here. Those that do usually only visit the Cave of the Patriarchs. Today, we will venture off the beaten track and visit Biblical Hebron, one of the world’s oldest and holiest cities!

Hebron and the Patriarchs

Hebron is mentioned 87 times in the (Hebrew) Bible. When Abraham entered Israel, he settled in the plains of Mamre, which is in Hebron. He built an altar to G-d and spread monotheism from this holy location (Genesis 13).

At the age of 99, Abraham was commanded by G-d to circumcise himself. Because of this action, an eternal covenant was sealed between G-d, Abraham, and his descendants (where they became “Chosen”). G-d also promised him a son, Isaac.

Three days later Abraham, still in pain from the procedure, had three angels appear to him. According to Jewish sources, G-d wanted Abraham to rest. He knew that Abraham felt a strong obligation to be kind to people, and he did not want Abraham to have to toil while he recovered. So, G-d caused the temperature that day to be extremely hot (see Genesis 18:1) so that people would not wander around and “bother“ Abraham.

For Abraham, however, not being able to do kindness for others caused him more pain than his physical ailments! So, G-d sent three “men” who unbeknownst to Abraham were actually angels.

Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rivka (Rebecca), and Jacob and Leah lived much of their lives in Hebron, and all of them are buried there at the Cave of Machpelah. (Jacob’s second wife, Rachel, was buried separately. Her tomb, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, is a well-known holy site.)

Cenotaph of Leah

Jews at the cenotaph of the Matriarch Leah in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, Sept. 19, 2022. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Hebron and the Spies

After the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel were supposed to enter Israel within a short period of time. When they were ready to enter, Moses sent 12 spies to check out the land and learn about the inhabitants they would have to defeat. They visited Hebron, where they witnessed intimidating giants (remnants of the Nephilim) and the formidable city walls which protected them.

After 40 days, the spies returned to the Israelite camp. Ten of the spies convinced the people that the land was unconquerable, while two of them (Joshua and Caleb) had faith in G-d and said, “The land is very, very good! If G-d desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us” (Numbers 14:7-8).

But the people panicked and wept heavily. As a punishment for the lack of faith expected at their high spiritual level, the children of Israel were destined to spend 40 years in the desert, where that generation would eventually die off, and only their children (anyone 19 or under) could enter the land.

According to Jewish sources, this decree did not apply to women or the tribe of Levi (including its men) who indeed entered the land 40 years later (they had not taken part in the “rebellion”). As a reward for speaking in support of entering the land immediately, Joshua later became the one to lead the Jews into the Holy Land, while Caleb and his descendants received ownership of Hebron and its environs as an eternal heritage (Joshua 15:13).

During the days of the judges and monarchy, Hebron continued to be an important Jewish city (both religiously and administratively). In fact, during the first seven years of King David’s reign, this holy city was Israel’s de facto capital, until an important event occurred which would change the course of world history.

To be continued.

Click for Part 2 and Part 3 of this Hebron series..

Nosson Shulman is a journalist and Licensed Tour Guide in Israel specializing in Biblical tours. To allow tourists to experience Israel during the Corona era, he created the new hit Israel tour video series, which brings Israel to the home of viewers by simulating actual tours. To check out his free sneak preview tour videos, click here. To view sample tour itineraries or to inquire about private tour opportunities with a personalized itinerary on your next trip to Israel, click here.