Cleaving to the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
וישלחהו מעמק חברון ויבא שכמה
“In the merit of Yosef the Righteous may You protect us!” Yosef unites, in this week’s parsha, the two sister cities, Hebron and Shechem, in his momentous journey from ‘the depths Hebron’ to Shechem, triggering Israel’s Exile in Egypt and Israel’s Redemption thereof.
Shechem is clearly a focal city in the Land of Israel, to such an extent that it was the first city Avraham built an altar in, the first city in the Land Yakov encamps in on his return from Laban, the burial place of Yosef hatzadik, a Refuge City, and also one of the only three cities land was bought and not conquered: Hebron, Shechem, and Jerusalem, just to mention a few.
Shechem’s most literal and simple translation means ‘shoulder’, which implies a taking on of responsibility (as people say ‘broad shoulders’), a matter that brings us directly to the verse describing Yissachar as a donkey who ‘gives his shoulder to carry.’ The reason we are directed to this verse specifically is because Shechem also alludes to the name of the son of Hamor the Hivite who raped Dina in last week’s parsha. A literal translation of his name, ‘Shechem ben Hamor’ means ‘the shoulder son of/pertaining to the donkey’, a striking resemblance to the description of Yissachar! Of course, here lies the obvious question: why does the Torah seem to tie such extremes between such a positive character (Yissachar) to such a negative character (Shechem son of Hamor)?
It seems that it is exactly this tie of extremes that teaches us the secret of Shechem. Shechem, the City of Responsibility, represents the taking of responsibility in the covenant with God in regard to the Land of Israel. Shechem, or Elon Moreh, is attributed in parshat Reeh (Dvarim) to Mount Grizim of Blessings and Mount Eival of Curses, which both lie in its close proximity. Here Israel are commanded to take responsibility for the covenant with HaShem and make the commitment that if Israel keep the Torah they shall prosper in the Land, but if they sin, God forbid, they shall be cursed, even exiled from this Land. Therefore, it is no wonder why Shechem has such mixed connotations in Biblical and Rabbinic sources, carrying the connotations of both Yissachar and Shechem son of Hamor, depending on the deeds of Israel. The fact that the Biblical term for a ketuba, ‘mohar’, is first mentioned in the Torah in context of Shechem seems to give us another clue into the secret of Shechem.
The three unique purchased cities represent the three essential stages of unity and marriage between Israel, the husband, and the Land of Israel, the wife, just as a purchase represents unique unity between the purchaser and the matter purchased . As mentioned earlier, Hebron – ‘Union’ represents the most initial and basic stage of betrothal – ‘kidushin’. Jerusalem represents the unity of the husband and wife in a dwelling or house, the Bais HaMikdash, in marriage called Hupa, yihud, or Nisuin. However, a crucial preliminary to Nisuin is the giving of a ketuba, the prenuptial agreement given to the wife binding the husband to responsibilities towards the wife. Therefore, we may say that Shechem corresponds to our ketuba-binding relationship with the wife, the Holy Land.
This profoundly explains why Israel are commanded to write the Torah on rock and erect it literally at the vicinity of Shechem, this rock representing the written ‘ketuba’ with the Land, the Law of the Covenant, the Torah. Therefore, it is no wonder why Yosef the Tzadik, well-known in Torah sources as ‘Keeper of the Covenant’, is buried in no other than Shechem, the continuation of Hebron in devotion and responsibility towards the Holy Land.
Real Stories from the Holy Land #147
“One Shabbos evening in our home, a glass ‘accidentally’ broke, boxes of cookies ‘accidentally’ fell turning the cookies into crumbs, a metal handle ‘accidentally’ broke, and my 3 year-old turned off the living room lights… I decided to do tshuva and vow a sizable sum to tzedaka to be given immediately after Shabbos. Then, the situation improved…” A.G .