You know the Chevron symbol? It might be familiar because of the gas company by that name, or because of its common use in military insignia. Merriam-Webster says that the name Chevron comes from the Latin word caper for goat, probably for a goat’s V-shaped horns (that source seems like quite stretch) or more likely from the Vulgar Latin word for rafter, as roof-rafters are connected beams rising to a joint point. Wikipedia also notes that Chevrons are usually pointed upward, but can also point downward (as evident from the Chevron gas company logo) but more on this symbol later. First about Chevron the city:
Chevron (Hebrew for Hebron) an ancient biblical city in Israel where most of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs are buried in the Machpela Cave, is today mostly Palestinian with a small enclave of Jews living in proximity of the Jewish historical holy sites. This week’s Torah portion is Chayei Sarah which tells the story of Abraham’s purchase of that cave to bury his wife Sarah. We did a whole Torah Tuesday class this week on the Jewish history of Hebron, but for this Shabbat would like to share one of those stories (without getting into all the details) we learned about a modern-day Sarah, who led the resettlement of Chevron after 1967: Sarah Nachshon. I think this particular story of Sarah Nachshon points to both upward and downward directions of the Chevron.
Sarah’s husband David is a famous artist, who is known to blend spiritual Kabbalah and Israel’s historical motifs into his vibrantly colorful paintings. His art is full of fiery spiritual imagination. Sarah his wife, is a pioneering pragmatist, boots on the ground. After Israel’s stunning victory in the lopsided war against it in 1967, she was eager to resettle Hebron, that ancient city of Jewish history, which had a small but continuous Jewish presence throughout the centuries until the Arab riots of 1929. There was much red-tape and resistance, but she and others persisted, and eventually a Jewish settlement was allowed to be built adjacent to Hebron, called by its biblical name of Kiryat Arba. Later she and other women planted themselves in Beit Hadassah, an old Hebron medical clinic building against the law, and remained there under a siege of sorts for a full year, before the Israeli government relented (and why they finally did is another story) and allowed the first Jewish settlement in the old city of Hebron.
For 700 years Jews, throughout Ottoman rule and later under the British Jews were denied access to the Cave of Machpela, the gravesite of the biblical Jewish matriarchs and patriarchs. The tomb had been converted for centuries into a mosque, and Jews were only allowed to go as far as the seventh step leading to the entrance of the tomb. Even after the Israeli conquest in 1967, the Israeli government was reluctant to provoke the Arab populace and severely restricted Jewish access – at first. Sarah Nachshon’s persistence was part of changing that. You can read more of Sarah Nachshon’s story here: http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/543887/jewish/Sarah-Nachshon.htm
All this is necessary background to this story about Sarah Nachshon’s son Avraham Yedidya:
He was born during the her struggle for Hebron, and she was eager to have his circumcision within the walls of the Tomb of Abraham, the first to be circumcised. Such ceremonies weren’t allowed at the time, but she made it happen anyways, and many tears were shed when the blessing was recited “to enter him into the Covenant of Abraham” in the very same spot where Abraham was buried, and in a place Jews were denied access for so many years. But then tragedy occurred while her husband was away (or perhaps it was during the time they were denied access to each other in that illegal settlement period) and this baby Avraham Yedidya died, only a few months old. Where to bury him? Sarah was determined to bury him in the ancient Jewish cemetery of Hebron, that was down the way from the Cave of the Machpela, long neglected and destroyed by the Arabs (gravestones used in road construction, site overturned) but the Israeli soldiers had the road blocked. She got out of the car, and began to walk towards the cemetery, her dead child in her arms. High-ranking generals in Tel-Aviv instructed the soldiers on site to block her path, but they could not. They radioed back that if you want to stop this grieving woman, come down here and do it yourself.
At the funeral of her son, Sarah Nachshon said: “Thousands of years ago, Abraham came to Hebron to bury his Sarah. Today, I, Sarah, am here to bury my Abraham.”
And since that burial, because of her persistence, that ancient cemetery has become a place to bury Jewish dead. It has been refurbished and rededicated, and in 2016 maps were found marking many old graves there that were unknown all these years. She felt that in the untimely loss of her son also lay seeds for growth.
Back to the Chevron symbol that we started with. It’s two lines that come together, that can either point downwards or upwards.
Chevron the city, is also known as the City of the Pairs: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah (Rachel is buried in Bethlehem). Think of each of those pairs as the joined beams of a Chevron symbol, coming together as one. That coming together can point downwards, as in a burial underneath the earth. Or it can point upwards, as their unity and togetherness points us in an uplifting way towards heaven. As Sarah Nachshon turned the death of her son, a downward pointing Chevron, into an upward pointing one.