Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Av 5765 - August 31, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








To the Graves of our Forefathers in the Galil

by Rabbi Aryeh Gefen

A journey along the path of our holy forefathers' resting places and other holy sites in Eretz Yisroel. Traditions, segulos and prayers.


Part Two

The first part described the graves of Chabakuk Hanovi, Rabbenu Bachya, Binyomin Hatzaddik, R' Chutspis Hameturgeman, Yehoyada Hakohen, Rachel daughter of Kalba Savua and wife of Rabbi Akiva, and began to discuss the grave of Rabbi Akiva. The discussion of R' Akiva continues.

His Martyrdom

"When Rabbi Akiva was imprisoned, Rabbi Yehoshua Hagirsi was his student and servant. On erev Yom Kippur he bid him good-bye and went home. Eliyahu z"l came to him and stood at the entrance of his home, and said, `Sholom olecho Rebbi.'

"He said to him, `Sholom olecho my rebbe and teacher.'

"He said to him, `Don't you need anything?'

"He said to him, `And who are you?'

"He said to him, `I am a kohein and I have come to tell you that Rabbi Akiva has died in prison.'

"The two immediately went to the prison and found the prison gate open. The prison guard and all the prisoners were sleeping, and they laid Rabbi Akiva on a pallet and left [with his body]. Eliyahu z"l immediately took him on his shoulders, and when Rabbi Yehoshua saw this, he said, `Eliyahu z"l my Rebbe! Just last night you told me that you are a kohein and a kohein is not allowed to defile himself by contact with a meis.'

"He said to him, `Enough, Rabbi Yehoshua, my son. Chas vesholom there is no tumah in Torah scholars and even in their students.'

"They took him all night until they reached Antipatris of Kotzrin. When they got there they went up three stairs and went down three stairs and the cave opened before them. There they saw a chair and a bench and a table and a lamp. They laid out Rabbi Akiva on the pallet and left. As soon as they left, the entrance to the cave closed up and the candle of the lamp was lit. When Eliyahu saw this he said, `How fortunate are you righteous people, and how fortunate are those who toil in Torah, and how fortunate are those who fear Elokim, for a special place in Gan Eden is reserved for you Le'ossid Lovo. How fortunate is Rabbi Akiva for a sweet resting place was found for you at the time of your death. About this, it is said, "She set her table" (Yalkut Shimoni, Mishlei 9:2).

We have a written tradition about the location of Rabbi Akiva's grave from pilgrims from the year 1522 (5282). Rabbi Chaim Vital relates that he visited the site with the Arizal later, in the year 1570 (5340).

In the book Tovas Mar'eh published in the year 1897 (5656), Rav Refael Ohana, a resident of Tiveriah, describes an astounding story, which he claims could have been substantiated by many witnesses.

The story goes like this: In the home of one of the city's wealthy residents there was a deaf-mute servant girl. Once, when the mistress of the house was unusually cruel to her, she fled the house. She was so upset that she went to seek solitude at the burial cave of Rabbi Akiva.

In the middle of the night, an ish Elokim with a very dignified-looking face appeared before her and asked what she was doing there. Because she was mute, she was unable to answer.

She pointed to her mouth to indicate this, but the man insisted, and said to her, "Speak!" She suddenly found her voice and told the man everything that had happened to her. The man put up a column of stones to serve as a dividing wall in the cave, and she put up an additional wall in the cave.

"Now go home," the honorable-looking man ordered her, "and tell the rav of the city what happened to you. Ask him to come build up the ruins of the cave and the grave."

The young girl ran immediately to the house where she had been working, and she began to speak. Her ears, that suddenly were able to hear, were like one hundred witnesses bearing the truth of what had happened. The rav of the city and its elders went to the grave and were astounded to see two rows of upright stones. They were shocked, and immediately set out to rebuild the place.


According to another story, in the year 1810 (5570) there was a drought in Eretz Yisroel, and when starvation became rampant, the rav of Tiveriah, Rabbi Avrohom Kalisher, decided to pray for rain at the tsiyun of Rabbi Akiva. Even though the day was very hot and dry, he told everyone to bring winter clothes and coats with them for their return journey.

Rav Avrohom and his cohorts prayed for hours at the tsiyun on the mountaintop until he finally stood up and announced that the prayers had been accepted and everyone could go home. As they were going down the mountain, dark clouds appeared, and as they reached the bottom, they met an Arab riding on a donkey who bowed down before him and announced, Boruch Elokei Yisroel.


When we visited the site one afternoon on what was just an ordinary weekday, several people were sitting at the site, praying and learning. There are etchings on the wall with sayings of Rabbi Akiva. The cave inside is closed for now, but the site has a roof and the paved area has chairs and seforim for the convenience of visitors. Special prayers have been composed to be said at this particular site.

The tsiyun of the Ramchal is near the courtyard of the tsiyun of Rabbi Akiva. The site is currently undergoing extensive renovations. Special bonfires are lit here on Lag BaOmer. The site is on the side of the mountain and overlooks a stupendous view: all the way to the Kinneret.

As is the case in many other places, the locals try to take over the site by setting up tables to sell souvenirs and the like. Municipal authorities deal with them as best they can, often resorting to the court system.

Cement Shard With the Name of Yeshayohu Hanovi

The traditional location of Yeshayohu Hanovi's grave site is in Kfar Baram, in a desolate valley surrounded by trees, facing a steep mountain. The site looks like it was hit by a pogrom. Huge chunks of cement are strewn around the area, and there remains only a small broken shard from the sign bearing the name of Yeshayohu Hanovi.

Bewildered, we approached the person who is in charge of the holy places in the north for an explanation of the destruction at the kever of the novi who himself prophesied the destruction of the Bayis. Rav Yisroel Deri explained that someone took the initiative to build a concrete structure over the grave site, but local municipal inspectors discovered that he had no building permit and they simply bulldozed the structure.

We find this hard to take in. Why would anyone care if a nice ohel is erected over the novi's grave site, even without the proper building permits?

Rav Yisroel lets us in on a little of what went on behind the scenes. Underneath the hill on which the grave site stands, next to the small hill, there's something like a fence and an ancient structure that the Antiquities Authority claims is the remnants of an ancient flour mill. The Authority wants whoever builds the ohel over the grave site to also undertake the care of this little building.

That's why municipal authorities were in such a hurry to enforce the building code and destroy the new structure over the kever. Be'ezras Hashem, detailed plans for renovation and preservation of the kever as well as the flour mill are in the works, and everything will be kosher and yosher. Uvo leZion Go'el. . . . (Yeshayohu 59:20)

In truth, the sources for this being the grave site of Yeshayohu Hanovi are a bit weak, to say the least. The place is mentioned in the book Gelilos Eretz Yisroel as well as in the writings of ancient travelers: the kever is said to be located in Kfar Baram.

However, in several places in Chazal we find that the novi Yeshayohu was pursued by King Menasheh who wanted to kill him, and when the Novi felt desperate, he said the Name of Hashem and disappeared into a tree. One of his tzitzis stayed outside however, and so King Menasheh could see where he was hiding. He ordered his men to stab him until his blood spewed onto the ground.

"Shimon ben Azzai taught, `I found a lineage scroll in Jerusalem wherein it says that Menasheh killed Yeshayohu. . . it says there he said the Name and disappeared into a tree and they brought a saw and began to cut through the tree, and when they reached his mouth he died because he said, `I live among people with impure lips.' (Yevomos 49b; see also Yerushalmi, maseches Sanhedrin 51 and Pesichta Rabbosi 4).

Near the Shiloach spring in Jerusalem's Kidron Valley there's an ancient mulberry tree, known to the Arabs as, "Yeshayohu Hanovi's tree."

In the sefer, Yam Shel Shlomo (Gittin 84) we read that people are not usually called by the name Yeshayohu, like the novi Yeshayohu, but instead are called "Yeshaya," since Yeshayohu was unlucky, since he was killed in a very strange way by the son of his daughter.

"Yeshayohu, the greatest of prophets" — "The vision of Yeshayohu ben Amotz," Rabbi Yochonon said, any novi whose name and the name of his father is mentioned is a novi and the son of a novi (Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshayohu Alef).

Ovadiah Hanovi

The tsiyun of Ovadiah Hanovi is in Kfar Baram, off the Maalot-Meiron road. The tradition for this location goes back to the year 1201, where Rabbi Shmuel ben Shimshon writes that he saw the grave site as well as an engraved stone on which it was written, "This is the grave of Ovadiah Hanovi, who feared His G-d from his youth and died 570 years from the exodus from Egypt."

He writes that a large tree shades the length of the tsiyun and that nearby there is a "very elegant beis medrash."

It's interesting to note that archaeologists have found the remnants of a large beis medrash in ancient Baram. A tree still shades the grave site, which sits relatively by itself in the site, near the Lebanese border. The tsiyun is well kept up and surrounded by a stone fence. Not far from the kever, we see signs telling us in no uncertain terms: "Border Ahead," stopping anyone from continuing onto the road leading to the security fence marking the border with Lebanon.

Ovadiah Hanovi was from the beis din of Eliyahu Hanovi, and he received the mesorah from Achia Hashiloni. It is brought in Sanhedrin (39) that Ovadiah was an Edomite ger. He hid one hundred prophets in a cave and took care of their living expenses, and this is why he merited to become a novi.

One of his most well-known prophecies is: "On Mount Zion there will be refuge, and it will be holy. . . And saviors will ascend to Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Eisov and the kingdom will be Hashem's" (Ovadiah 1).

Two minutes' walk from the kever of Ovadiah Hanovi, we find the tsiyun of the amora Mar Zutra, a colleague of Ameimar and Rav Ashi who was the head of the yeshiva at Pumbedisa for a number of years.

According to tradition, the grave site is in Kfar Baram near the remnants of an ancient beis knesses, not far from the grave site of Esther Hamalkah. The Seder Hadoros, in the name of Gelilos Eretz Yisroel, affirms this location. In Yichus Ovos, printed five hundred years ago, the site is mentioned, and it is quoted in HaRav Yehiel Michel Stern's contemporary Kivrei Tzaddikim.


I entered a dim cave. The flickering of burning candles told me that someone had been here before me, not long before. I sat down in the corner and opened a sefer Tehillim to the light of the candles. I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder. My heart skipped a beat, and I must admit that all Rav Gellis' stories about lions and foxes who roamed freely in this area until 1949 went through my mind. But it didn't take long for me to realize that it was a human touch on my shoulder, and my heart started beating again.

I turned around quickly.

"Who are you?" I asked a silent man with an imposing presence whose penetrating gaze stood out from a gray beard reaching to his chest.

"What's the difference?" he asked.

"If I tell you that my name is Goldstein, will you be happy?" he asked rhetorically in answer to my rhetorical question.

"Why are you reciting Tehillim?" he asked, in reproach. "Don't you know that a page of gemora be'iyun is more important than reciting Tehillim? You're wasting your time. Go back to the yeshiva or the kollel and keep on learning Torah be'iyun since, `it is life-giving to those who found it and cures all flesh' (Mishlei).

The-man-with-the-penetrating-eyes-let's-say-my-name-is- Goldstein started to quote the well-known words of the Nefesh Hachaim (Gate 4, chapter 2) where Dovid Hamelech asks that Heaven consider that someone who recites sefer Tehillim receive the same merit as one who studies nego'im ve'oholos. But who knows if his request was answered, as the gemora in Bovo Basra 17 says that maybe the worms ate his flesh even though he requested that they not do so.

With his permission, I told him a story about a Lithuanian rabbi who met a well-known Admor who began to quote the above gemora about how Tehillim should be accepted in Heaven as nego'im ve'oholos and who knows if his request was answered, and continued that Dovid Hamelech asked, "May my flesh rest secure." The gemora there says that he asked for mercy, and that it was a tefilloh and a request and we do not know if his request was accepted or not.

The rov said that the pshat in the gemora is entirely different. The gemora says that there were seven people whom the worms did not eat, and they were: Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Miriam, Binyomin the son of Yaakov, and some say also Dovid, since it says (in Tehillim), "May my flesh rest secure." But the other opinion holds that Dovid prayed and asked for mercy.

The explanation is that the first seven did not have to pray that the worms not eat their flesh, since they merited that already. However Dovid, even though the worms did not eat his flesh, needed to pray in order to achieve this and therefore, according to the first opinion, he was not counted with the other seven (even though the second opinion does count him). But it is not correct to say that his prayers were not answered.

"I will also repay you with a Chassidic saying," said the man who had startled us, again startling us. "Why do people put bits of stone on grave sites? Because it is written, `And Yaakov took a stone and made a pillar-stone; and Yaakov told his brothers to gather stones and they did so and made a monument."

Nachman Chatufa

According to tradition, this dim cave with the flickering candles is the grave site of Nachman Chatufa, or Katufa. This is the name of a youth who died at the age of twelve, whose entire life and death were wondrous.

It is brought that in the year 4245 (485) a holy Jew by the name of Rav Pinchas lived with his wife Rachel in the Galilee. Rachel was barren. She beseeched Hashem in prayer until they were blessed with a son, whom they named Nachman (comforter), since he comforted them.

From the moment of his birth, he began to say wondrous things talking even about Ma'asei Merkovoh, the highest aspect of Heavenly influence on Earth, but his father rebuked him and made him keep still. He stopped talking and didn't say another word until he was 12.

His mother would cry to his father to allow him to speak so that she could have nachas from him like any Jewish mother. The father finally gave in and let him speak, on condition that he not speak openly about Divine secrets but only in obscure phrases. Everyone called him, "Nachman Katufa [plucked] from Baram," since his years were plucked away from him and he died when he was 12 years old.

Seder Hadoros brings in the name of Rabbi David Hanogid, one of the Rambam's grandsons, that the boy was able to speak many Divine secrets and prophecies, including those dealing with the end of days. He described in detail many of the travails and wars that will befall the Jewish people until the final Geuloh, even before he was twelve years old.

His prophecies were published in Nagid Umitzvah in the year 4472 (712), which tells us that the events took place in the five-hundredth year since the destruction of Bayis Sheini, and the details of the events are written in Aramaic on scrolls that have been buried for many years in lead containers in the ruins of Tiveriah.

Pilgrims from the year 4297 (1537) describe the grave site, "And many trees are shading it." Nachman Chatufa's story is engraved on the tombstone atop the grave in Kfar Baram to this day.

`Divorcing' the City

We were surprised to learn that trips to kivrei tzaddikim were once called something else: gerushin. In the book Likutei Shoshanim, it says that HaRav Shlomo Alkabetz, the composer of Lecho Dodi, would "divorce" himself from the city and go out into the fields and to kivrei tzaddikim from time to time. Of the mekubal HaRav Moshe Cordovero, he wrote, "And he bound himself to Torah and then the Shechinah was with him, and he used to divorce himself from his home."

In the sefer Chesed LeAvrohom from the year 1607 (5367), we are told that the Arizal could misyacheid with the souls of tzaddikim, and at times would "misgaresh" from the city and visit grave sites. "And he went to the tsiyun of Shemayah and Avtalyon in Gush Chalav, and prostrated himself, spreading both arms and legs on the grave. He spoke to them as someone speaks with a friend, and they revealed many of the world's secrets to him."

And I Made the Coffee

The book, Maso'os Eretz Yisroel describes the daring visitors who came to tour the land. During a visit of a few weeks, they visited the holy places accompanied by entire entourages of aides. The journeys usually took place right after Shavuos, before the weather becomes unbearably hot.

Everyone according to his wealth: usually a wealthy man was accompanied by a few poor male escorts who would serve him all along the way. One of these describes the crew that accompanied the rich man: "One was in charge of food preparation; another took charge of fire and smoking equipment so each person could smoke and I, Reb Yitzchok Goiazo, from a family of nezirim, students of the Arizal, was responsible for the coffee. I prepared and cooked it for all the passengers whenever necessary."

Each escort received a donkey upon which to ride, as well as his food and other needs for the trip, from his master.

The local tax collectors collected duties upon entrance to any village that had grave sites. It didn't seem to matter how many were in each village — the tax was the same in each village. This is how they made their living during the summer months. On more than one occasion, the tax collectors required the visitors to clean up the grave sites, and if a site was in a state of disrepair, they were often required to fix it.

An Interview with Rabbi Yosef Schwinger, director of the National Center for Development of the Holy Places

Two Shekels Entrance Fee at the Kosel Hama'arovi?

How have the recent government budget cuts affected the National Center?

Rav Schwinger: It seems that someone in the Treasury decided to cut out the National Center for Development of the Holy Places completely. Close to seventy percent of our budget has been cut! Our budget has been reduced from over seven million to two million shekalim: a sum that doesn't even begin to cover employees' salaries and minimal upkeep of the holy places. And even for this paltry sum, we have to fight month after month until the funds are transferred into the employees' bank accounts.

This is very disturbing. The National Parks Authority as well as the Antiquities Authority benefit from generous budget allocations of hundreds of millions of shekalim!

And the holy places, which belong to the whole Jewish people and are visited by tourists from all over the world, get measly funds, doled out only very begrudgingly. According to our information, the holy places are frequented much, much more than the national parks that are so generously funded. The Kosel Hama'arovi, for instance, is visited every day of the year by more people than all of the national parks put together (the parks are generally frequented only on particular days and weekends by schoolchildren and groups of organized tours).

How are you managing with the budget cuts?

Rav Schwinger: The holy places need ongoing maintenance. Many places need periodic repairs, electricity, and security, signs, cleaning, clearing and/paving access paths, purchase of prayer books and curtains, etc. Some of this is funded by donors whom we bring to the sites. In principle, this shouldn't happen in the State of Israel which claims ownership of the sites.

The Treasury people have suggested that we charge entrance fees to the sites, to the adjacent picnic areas; to open legal souvenir stalls, and in general, to turn the sites into money-making tourist attractions.

In my opinion, they overdid it a bit when they asked me to charge a two shekel entrance fee to the Kosel. All over the world, they tell me, it's standard practice to charge entrance fees to holy sites. I told them that I think they have simply gotten carried away, and we would never charge such fees.

The holy places belong to the entire Jewish nation. They attract Jews as well as non-Jews from all over the world. Almost every tourist comes to the Kosel and Kever Dovid or kever Rashbi in Meiron; to Amuka and other sites. It's preposterous that a national park or particular stream take on more importance than the grave site of a holy tanna, glory of the Jewish nation throughout the generations.

And in general, it simply pains us to see the distorted secular approach to our "holy places." On many occasions, people come to pray for their future at the grave site of Yehonoson ben Uziel and light candles on Shabbos (!) Rachmono litzlan, causing a horrible chilul Hashem. We are constantly trying to find a way to stop this phenomenon.

In light of the Draconian cutbacks, what are your plans for the future? What is your order of preference?

Rav Schwinger: We want to improve access to the kever of Yehonoson ben Uziel: enlarge the parking lot and pave better access roads. This will take millions of shekalim, and we are trying to find the budget for it. In addition, we want to upgrade the "Cave of Eliyahu" in Haifa: to add rooms, install additional lighting and electricity.

We also have plans for development of the kever of Rashbi in Meiron and those of Rabbi Akiva and the Rambam in Tiveriah, to improve access. Air-conditioning has been installed in many places thanks to generous donors, like at part of the Kosel Hama'arovi and the cave of Shimon Hatzaddik. Kever Rachel Imeinu also needs our attention, and it will soon undergo innovative changes. We want to enable access to the site without the need for armored buses, since the separation fence that is being built will surround the entire area! With Hashem's help, we will add another floor to the site, and the bathroom facilities will be remodeled. We have received help for these plans from the Ministry of Defense, private donors, and other government officials.

A security checkpoint will be erected at "kever Shmuel Hanovi" — Nebi Samuel. The site will be under closed- circuit surveillance, 24-hours a day.

Before we conclude, I'd like to mention the wonderful phenomenon of individuals who feel drawn to a particular site and wholeheartedly take its restoration and/or upkeep upon themselves. Like HaRav Yitzchok Maoz, a ger tzeddek whose daughter was killed, Rachmono litzlan in a the terrible terrorist attack in Sbarro in downtown Jerusalem. His torment didn't end, he himself was injured in an attack at the Clal Building in downtown Jerusalem. He has taken upon himself the care of the grave site of "Rachel, wife of Rabbi Akiva" in Tiveriah. There are other blessed people who are emotionally attached and totally dedicated to a particular grave site. In their merit, many of our holy sites are maintained the way they should be.

Unfortunately, however, we can't ignore certain elements who take over particular sites as if they were their personal property, handed down from generation to generation. Let's not forget that the holy places are the "property" of the entire Jewish people, and everyone has an equal share in their holiness. Sometimes we have to get involved in legal battles, and we have to constantly keep the correct proportion between the greater needs of the Jewish people and people's private caprices.


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