I’m pleased to announce a new series of posts that will appear periodically on this blog, exploring a concept that I call “Torat Ha’aretz” (the Torah of the Land). As an Israel-based educator who is also a professional tour guide, I focus a lot on enhancing Jewish education with the knowledge we can gain from traveling throughout the land. A first hand look at the archaeology and geography of the Land of Israel can bring new and deeper meaning to the study of Chumash, Navi, Torah SheBaal Peh, or Jewish History. This has always been one of the advantages of teaching these subjects in israel, But now, through the use of educational technology, you can give your students this advantage even in a diaspora classroom.
Obviously, the best way to do this is to take students on actual trips in Israel (the “classroom without walls”), ideally after preparing for the trip with formal classes. Of course, though, this is often not practical, especially for teachers and schools based in the Diaspora. But even if you can’t bring your students here physically, you can still enhance your teaching with the knowledge and insights gained from contemporary exploration of Eretz Yisrael.
In this introductory post, I’ll explain one of my favorite applications of this idea. When our Patriarch Yaakov sent his son Yosef on the ill-fated mission to see his brothers in Shechem, the Torah says that he sent him “Me’Emek Chevron”, from the Valley of Hebron (Bereishit 37:14). The great medieval commentator Rashi expresses puzzlement at this expression. What, asks Rashi, is the Valley of Hebron? “But we know that Hebron is on a mountain, as it says (Bamidbar 13:22) ‘they ascended from the South…to Hebron’!”
Unable to reconcile the apparent contradiction between those two verses, Rashi concludes (based on a Midrash) that the phrase “Emek Chevron” must be a metaphor, referring to the “deep counsel of the righteous one who is buried in Hebron”. According to this interpretation, the expression indicates that Yosef’s journey to the Shechem, which set into motion the descent of the Children of Israel to Egypt, was the fulfillment of the Divine prophecy previously revealed to our forefather Avraham.
Bet Menachem-Tel Chevron
When I take people to Hebron, I am fond of bringing them to the rooftop of a building known as “Bet Menachem”, in the Tel Hebron/Tel Rumeida neighborhood. This apartment house is built above excavations revealing ruins over 4000 years old. This is the city where Yaakov lived, and as indicated by the verse in Bamidbar, it is indeed on a mountain. From atop the roof, one has a clear view of Ma’arat HaMachpela/the Cave of the Patriarchs, in the valley below. That’s the “Valley of Hebron” referred to in Bereishit.
Valley of Hebron
Rashi never had the privilege that we have, to stand in this spot. From this vantage point, though, we can gain a deeper insight into the Midrash that Rashi quoted: Hebron is, in fact, on a mountain, and there is also a “Valley of Hebron,” below. And that valley is where “the righteous one” who received the “deep counsel” is buried.
Therefore, when the Torah says that Yaakov sent Yosef from the “Valley of Hebron”, the expression has two levels of meaning. Yaakov apparently escorted Yosef out of the city to the fields below, and it was from there that he sent him on his journey. Unbeknownst to Yaakov at the time, though, he was not merely sending him on a routine trip beginning in the Valley of Hebron, but on a meta-historic journey into exile and redemption from which the People of Israel would ultimately emerge, fulfilling the “deep counsel of that righteous one who is buried in [the Valley of] Hebron”.
The author, Rabbi Alan Haber, has been involved in Torah education for over twenty-five years. He is a licensed professional tour guide, and is currently on the faculty of Matan and of Bnei Akiva’s Midreshet and Yeshivat TVA programs. He also works as a freelance writer and editor, and is on the editorial staff of the Koren Talmud Bavli .