President Isaac Herzog: "We must remember that we are not the only ones whose roots branch out from this tomb. Today, of all days; here, of all places, in this site sacred to all Children of Abraham—we must continue to dream about peace between all religions and faiths in his land, and to denounce all forms of hatred and violence."
Today, President Isaac Herzog toured the Cave of the Patriarchs and lit the first Chanukah candle there. Hebron Jewish community head Rabbi Hillel Horowitz, Kiryat Arba local council leader Eliyahu Liebman, rabbis, IDF and Israel Police commanders, local residents, and yeshiva and ulpana students also participated in the candle lighting.
President Isaac Herzog's full remarks:
"I am glad to light the first Chanukah candle with you here, in this holy place, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. My connection and my family's connection to this place stretches back many generations. Forty-five years ago to the month, Israel's ambassador at the United Nations, my late father Chaim Herzog, later the Sixth President of the State of Israel, recited the verses from the "Chayyei Sarah" Torah portion that we read in synagogues just a few weeks ago on Shabbat. The verses in which the Torah presents, quite atypically, the story of the purchase of the field of Machpelah in intricate detail. And thus, United Nations ambassadors sat there and heard the whole story.
They heard how our Patriarch Abraham purchased the field from Ephron the Hittite at full price. In a break from common practice, it was agreed that these verses would be circulated as an official document of the United Nations—a document that proves and exemplifies our connection to the Cave of the Patriarchs. And thus, the title deed for this holy site became an official document of the United Nations Security Council.
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, one of the great men of his generation, the fortieth anniversary of whose passing we will mark this year, congratulated my late father on his remarks in a special, warm, and appreciative letter.
But that was not, of course, the beginning of my family's connection to this place, to Hebron. Rabbanit Faya Hillman, the mother of my great-grandfather Rabbi Shmuel Yitzhak Hillman (who was a dayan at the London Beth Din and had an especially brave relationship with the old yeshiva in Hebron), was here in 1929, during the terrible massacre of the Jews of Hebron.
She had made aliyah just a few years earlier after being widowed, and she had settled down alone in Hebron. She had made the whole journey from Lithuania, just to live in the holy city of Hebron. A photograph of her, covered from head to toe after being seriously injured in the 1929 riots, appeared under the headline: "Mother of the rabbi from London." She was saved from certain death by pretending to be dead after her serious injury.
I have no doubt that she would have been very moved by the fact that one of her descendants is lighting Chanukah candles in the Cave of the Patriarchs as the President of the State of Israel.
Ladies and gentlemen, our Sages wondered how the first man knew where this cave was. Their answer was that he kept walking until he saw a slender light rising out of the earth. On Chanukah, lighting the candles and publicizing the miracle, here in the Cave of the Patriarchs, we connect the Chanukah candles to the light of Adam, the light of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
In the Olat Reiyah Siddur, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook raises the question of why we recite a blessing "to light the Chanukah candle" and not in the plural, "to light Chanukah candles." His answer is that although the many lights seem completely separate to us, we will eventually understand that they are all one single candle, a symbol of peace and fraternity within the nation.
"I am looking for my brothers" (Genesis 37:16). So said Joseph when he was sent from Hebron to check on his brothers, and today, here in Hebron, we must renew this call. My brothers and sisters, today too, with all the complexities—and I am not ignoring these complexities for a moment—the historical affinity of the Jewish People to Hebron, to the Cave of the Patriarchs, to the heritage of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs, is not in doubt. Recognition of this attachment must be beyond all controversy.
When we assemble around the wonderful light of the Chanukah candles, it is important that we respect the Israeli principle of mamlakhtiyut and its tenets, listen more to the other, respect difference, and build one bridge after another in order to protect our togetherness, of course without prejudice to any individual or community, their opinions and faiths. We will not agree on everything, but we will always remember that "we are all sons of one man" (Genesis 42:11). That we all share deep roots branching out of this tomb.
In addition, we must remember that we are not the only ones whose roots branch out from this tomb. Today, of all days; here, of all places, in this site sacred to all Children of Abraham—we must continue to dream about peace between all religions and faiths in his land, and to denounce all forms of hatred and violence. Because the Torah portion that I mentioned earlier, Chayyei Sarah, is also the one that describes the cooperation between Isaac and Ishmael, when they buried here in the Cave of the Patriarchs, together, their father—our forefather.
I thank you for the hospitality and wish all of you, and the whole House of Israel a Happy Chanukah!"