By Hershel Rosenbluh for Anash.org
Part III of the Frierdiker Rebbe’s visit to Eretz Yisroel in 5689/1929.
On 7 Av the Frierdiker Rebbe visited Kever Rochel and Chevron, city of our forefathers.
The procession left Yerushalayim at 12:06 pm. A long procession of cars and buses accompanied the Rebbe. All the bochurim and faculty of Yeshivas Toras Emes made the trip. Fifteen minutes later they arrived in Beis Lechem at Kever Rochel. The Rebbe went inside and stayed for two and a half hours, reading many pidyonos. He lit some 18 candles and said much Tehillim, shedding many tears. He also asked if they knew which way Rochel Imeinu’s body was lying, so he could daven towards the head. He walked around the kever and again read the pidyonos. From there they traveled to Chevron.
On the way to Chevron, the procession stopped at the frum yishuv Migdal Eder, where local yidden and a delegation of Chevron rabbonim and elders awaited the Rebbe. They included the Rabbonim of Chevron, Sefardim and Ashkenazim, plus a delegation from the Slabodka Yeshiva in Chevron. The Rebbe waited in the car and greeted all those who came to greet him.
At 3:30 pm they arrived in Chevron. A large crowd was waiting for them, including the bochurim of the Chevron-Slabodka Yeshiva. The Rebbe drove to the home of Rav Yakov Yosef Slonim, rov of Chevron, which was at the entrance to the city, outside the Old City. First, he allowed the mass of people to greet him at the Slonim home, then he sat for a while and prepared the Chassidus he would recite later that evening.
At 5:00 pm, the Rebbe left the Slonim home and began to walk around the city, with hundreds joining him on his walk. They passed the Beis Romano, which had been bought by the Rebbe Rashab some years back and had since been taken over by local authorities. They arrived at the Me’oras HaMachpelah, where hundreds more waited.
At the Me’oras HaMachpelah the Rebbe walked up to the seventh step (see next paragraph) and stopped there to daven Mincha. The Rebbe davened with the Rosh Hashonoh nigun dveikus, and the davening took about an hour and forty minutes!
Soon, word came down that the Rebbe would get special permission to actually walk into the building and see the resting places. For Jews this was usually off-limits. A Jew was only allowed to walk up until the seventh step leading up to the cave building. King Hordos had built a building over the cave many centuries before, and it later became a mosque after the Muslims conquered Chevron. Jews were banned from entering.
The Rebbe’s cousin Eliezer Don Slonim, a great-grandson of the Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel, had very close connections to many of the Arab sheiks in Chevron. He was the president of the Anglo-Palestine Bank in Chevron and was thus able to arrange that the Rebbe visit the actual cave. When the Frierdiker Rebbe arrived at the me’arah, a delegation of sheiks waited to greet him. They handed him special shoe covers that would allow him to keep his shoes on while visiting the cave. The Rebbe entered the cave from Sha’ar Yaakov and exited from Sha’ar Avrohom. He was accompanied by the Rashag and six others.
The members of the group were: The Frierdiker Rebbe, the Rashag, Rav Yakov Yosef Slonim, Reb Eliezer Don Slonim, Reb Yisroel Zissel Dvortz, a former talmid of Slabodka Yeshiva and a descendant of Chabad Chassidim in Russia, his brother Reb Yitzchok, and local resident Sholomo Zalman Klonsky. Reb Yisroel Zissel had also been instrumental in getting the permission. After these seven were allowed in, Klonsky tried to get permission for three more Jews, so that there could be a minyan to daven inside, but that didn’t materialize.
The Grand Mufti of Yerushalayim (yms”h), when he found out about the special permission, had sent a telegram to stop the Frierdiker Rebbe from entering, but it arrived too late.
The Frierdiker Rebbe writes that he was inside the building for about 15 minutes. He was shown all the matzeivos, as well as the opening to the cave that had a burning oil lamp there. Some accounts tell how the Frierdiker Rebbe also was allowed to go downstairs where the actual resting places of the avos are. However, he did not daven inside the building – all the tefillos took place with the crowds of people outside. As the Frierdiker Rebbe exited the building, he distributed handouts to the Arab beggars who stood there with outstretched hands.
After visiting the Me’oras HaMachpelah the Frierdiker Rebbe visited Beis Romano and the Avrohom Avinu Shul. Then, he returned to the home of Rav Slonim, where many of the Slonim and Schneersohn family members were waiting for him.
After a short rest the Frierdiker Rebbe drove to the main shul for maariv. At 8:05 pm, the Rebbe sat down and began reciting the maamar ד”ה יהי ה’ אלוקינו עמנו – which lasted for about 50 minutes. The Frierdiker Rebbe later wrote how the bochurim of the Slabodka-Chevron Yeshiva (which had relocated from Slabodka, Lithuania, some five years prior) were with the Rebbe all day, and heard the Chassidus he said as well, “Todah LoKeil.“
The Roshei Yeshiva of the Slabodka-Chevron Yeshiva wanted very much that the Frierdiker Rebbe visit their Yeshiva, and the Rebbe acquiesced and came to the Yeshiva. He later wrote how he was very impressed with the 260 bochurim (“kein yirbu”). The visit was short but made a lasting impression. The Rebbe blessed them and sent regards to the Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Moshe Mordechai Epstein, who was apparently out of town at the time.
At 10:00 pm, the Frierdiker Rebbe arrived back to Yerushalayim and the Hotel Amdursky. There a telegram from his mother, Rebbetzin Shterna Soroh, awaited him, cautioning him to guard his health and not to fast.
11 days later, an Arab massacre took place in Chevron, when 67 Jews – men women and children – were brutally murdered. Among the dead were Eliezer Don Slonim and his family and 24 bochurim from the Slabodka Yeshiva. HY”D.
Note: An account of the Frierdiker Rebbe’s visit to Chevron is brought in Rabbi Dov Cohen’s “וילכו שניהם יחדיו“, published by Feldheim in 5769/2009. Despite being a talmid in the Chevroner Yeshiva and not a chossid, he very much wanted to see the Frierdiker Rebbe up close. He writes how just walked into the Slonim house and stood up on a chair and peaked in through the opening into the room where the Freierdiker Rebbe was preparing for his visit to the Me’oras HaMachpeiloh. He then accompanied the entourage as they walked through the city and approached the cave. However, he was too intimidated to actually approach the Frierdiker Rebbe for a bracha.