HEVRON(VINnews) — The Machpela Cave has known ups and downs in recent history. During the period of Turkish rule Jews were not permitted to enter the ancient Herodean edifice built above the cave and could only pray at the seventh step adjacent to the wall of the cave. Even during the British mandate Jews were prohibited from entering the cave, with an exception being made for the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s visit in 1929 after Hevron senior resident Eliezer Dan Slonim prevailed on the Arab gatekeepers to allow the Rebbe to pray there. Just one month later, Slonim was brutally murdered during the 1929 riots together with 66 other Jewish residents. The Jews were banished from Chevron and the cave was left desolate.
It was not until 1967 that Jews returned to Chevron and the Machpela cave, but this time they could enter and pray at the tombs of the forefathers. In 1994 however, Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Arab worshipers in the chamber of Yitzchak and Rivka, killing 29 worshipers before he was lynched. The cave was closed to visitors and since then the Yitzchak and Rivka chamber is only opened on special occasions like Chol Hamoed and Erev Rosh Chodesh Elul.
The tiny Jewish community in Hevron placed Mezuzahs at the entrances to the chambers in the cave, but these have regularly been torn off by local Arabs who still worship in the adjacent mosques.
Three years ago an Israeli sculptor named Assaf Kidron received a phone call from one of the supervisors of the cave, stating that there was a permit to place permanent stone Mezuzot in the cave. Kidron was intrigued and came to see the cave’s huge doorposts.
“Make them strong, so they can’t be removed,” said Tzuri, the supervisor.
Kidron tried to think where he could take a stone for Avraham’s chamber. The natural place would be the first place where Avraham saw the Shechina and received the promise of inheritance of the land. This occurred in Shechem and that is where Kidron located a stone for Avraham.
For Yaakov’s chamber, Kidron travelled north of Beit El to the place were Yaakov dreamed and saw a ladder reaching heaven. Dr. Hagi Ben Artzi, a local expert on Tanach and history, showed him the approximate place and Kidron chose a stone from there.
Two years later, the authorities allowed Kidron to place a stone Mezuzah in Yitzhak’s chamber. Kidron chose the place most identified with Yitzchak, where he passed the ultimate test of the Akeidah, the merit of which is mentioned daily in our prayers.
In recent years the Waqf which supervises the Temple Mount has removed tons of dirt from the mountain, including important archaeological artefacts. Archaeologists regularly sift through this dirt searching for valuable relics. Many have been found, including actual flagstones from the Temple itself. Kidron asked the archaeologists if they had a stone from Temple Mount, a stone which bore witness to the Akeidah and which heard the angel say to Avraham “do not touch the boy.” One archaeologist responded “Yes, we removed a big stone from the dirt as well.”
The stone was located and Kidron inscribed the names of Yitzhak and Rivka as well as a mention of the Akeidah and a picture of an altar.