Josephus writes that Shlomo Hamelech placed a large treasure of gold and silver in the tomb. Eight centuries later, Horkunus removed three hundred bars of silver to give to Antiyochus. The treacherous king Herod wanted to remove more treasure, so he sent two boys there in the middle of the night for this purpose, but the attempt was thwarted when two flames of fire shot out and consumed them.
The famous traveler Rav Binyomin of Tudela in his sefer Masos Binyomin writes something very interesting about this makom. Sometime around the year 1170, the walls of a platform that the Christians had erected near that spot collapsed. The church patriarch instructed one of his subordinates to collect the stones and rebuild the wall, and twenty men were hired for this job. As they picked up a heavy stone, an opening in the earth was uncovered and they found that it led to an underground cavern.
Two of the Arab workers decided to enter to search for hidden treasures. They followed a path until they reached a palace supported by four marble pillars adorned with silver and gold. Right before their eyes was a golden table with a crown and a royal scepter on it. This was the resting place of Dovid Hamelech. To his left were Shlomo Hamelech and other malchei Yehudah. There were also sealed chests that seemed to have valuables in them.
The men moved further to investigate, when, suddenly, a strong gust of wind coming from inside cast them to the ground. They lay there unconscious till the evening. Finally, they heard a loud voice calling out to them, “Get up and leave at once!”
They ran out as fast as they could and told the patriarch what happened. He summoned Rav Avrohom Hachossid to see if he could shed light on the incident. They agreed that the next day, Rav Avrohom would go back there with the Arab workers to investigate. When the workers failed to show up the next day, a messenger was sent to summon them. He returned with the shocking news that both of them had been found dead, lying in their beds.
Much more recently, Rav Yisroel Porath, a longtime rov in Cleveland, wrote in a memoir, “My grandfather told me that once, he received permission from the Ottoman rulers to go down to the area of the kevorim for the sole purpose of painting and repairing the entrance to the area. Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin was very interested to hear what he saw down there, My grandfather told him that it appeared to him as if there was a Sefer Torah on one of caskets. Rav Yehoshua Leib commented that this was probably the aron of Chizkiyahu Hamelech, for Chazal say that a Sefer Torah was placed on his deathbed to show that he fulfilled everything that was written in it (Bava Kama 17a).”
Even more fascinating is a detailed version of the painter’s testimony as recorded by the Maggid of Vilkomir, Rav Chaim Yitzchok Rappaport, publicized in 1993, with excerpts printed in the Yated at that time. For many years until then, it was kept secret for fear of the government’s reprisals against the workers. Here is where the Maggid’s account begins.
“The Turkish authorities decided that the entrance to the cave with the kevorim inside needed to be repainted and fixed up. In our community, there are two painters, a father and a son, who were hired for the job. Guards were stationed above to make sure that no one else went down there. An oil candelabra was lowered to provide light. Although I was ill with a high fever, I strained myself to be at Rav Yehoshua Leib’s house when they provided the testimony and I recorded it word for word.
“They said, ‘We were commanded not to take even one step past the area of our work, for it is holy land. Even high-ranking officers were not allowed down there. We were threatened with death if we didn’t comply with the rules. After a few days, we earned the guards’ trust and they handed us the keys to the outside gate.
“‘One day, all of them were away, celebrating a festival in their mosque, and no one was there to watch us. Immediately, we entered the cave via a small doorway. Hanging from the top of this chamber was a gold plaque engraved in k’sav Ashuris. It said Kivrei Malchei Bais Dovid, Kivrei on top and Bais Dovid underneath.
“‘We approached a large stone covering a hole and removed it. We descended on a spiral staircase going down to the lower chambers of the cave. It was like a palace with a large area surrounded by pillars decorated with silver…the tops lined with gold. There was a door covered with a curtain, and written on it was, ‘How awesome is this place…kadosh, kadosh, kadosh. We stood there wondering if we should enter. Finally, with great trepidation, we pushed ourselves and walked in. In the distance we saw a bright light that appeared like a fire. It took us about an hour to work up the courage to move closer.
“‘In the middle of the room were four marble pillars covered with gold and silver on the bottom. Stretching from pillar to pillar was a marble netting. In the center was a gold bed with a cushion on top. On the cushion lay an aron with a cover woven of gold thread. We came closer and noticed a Magein Dovid with eight corners with the word Dovid in the middle.
“‘Near the coffin was a gold crown lined with precious stones. They were the source of the bright light that we saw when we entered. We lifted one side of the woven cover and saw on the aron the words Dovid ben Yishai. Then we lifted the other side and saw the words Dovid ben Yishai Melech Yisroel. Immediately, we fell on our faces and recited a few kappitlach of Tehillim.
“‘We took a closer look at the crown and noticed that at its base there was a bar going across from one side to the other. We wondered how it could possibly stay on anyone’s head.’”
Here the Maggid interjects: “This corresponds with what Chazal said about a posuk in Melochim (1:5): ‘And Adoniyahu ben Chagis exalted himself, saying: ‘I shall reign.’ Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: ‘He tried wearing the crown, but it would not stay on him.’ Rashi explains that this is because it had a gold bar going across from one side to the other. It only stays on if the one who does it has a notch in his head for the bar to enter. This is a sign that he is right for the crown (Sanhedrin 21b).
“‘We also saw a marble table. On it was a double -edged sword about five amos long, and next to it was a gold scepter with a luminous stone on the handle. All of this we saw on one day when no guards were present…’”
So ends the amazing testimony of the painters. Needless to say, what a hallowed shrine this is! What a cherished place for Yidden to go to to pour out their hearts to Hashem, saying Tehillim that express every possible emotion of Klal Yisroel (Sources: Where Heaven Touched Earth, by David Rossoff, Yated 1993).
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For years, there have been rumblings about the Israeli government handing over the area of Kivrei Malchus Bais Dovid to the Vatican. It was unbelievable that a Jewish state would do this, and with time, the rumors faded, so we didn’t give it much thought. Of late, however, it seems that this might just become a reality. The fact that politicians are keeping this a secret and it is not up for public discussion does not bode well. If not for news leaks, we would still be in the dark about this.
What exactly is the State of Israel getting in return for this? It’s not like they are under tremendous pressure to surrender the area. What favors are they currying by surrendering this holy site? Will it bring in more tourism or gain us support from Christians? These questions are really irrelevant. Is any favor really worth giving up a makom kadosh to turn into a place of avodah zarah and rendering it unfit for us to daven at?
Can you imagine the Christians or Muslims giving up one of their cherished places to another religion for monetary or other gains? It would never happen because they have a firm belief in their heritage, something many of the Israeli politicians are totally void of. It just proves the old adage: “If you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.”
Isn’t it ironic that the state that displays the Magein Dovid in the center of its flag has no feeling for this tzaddik’s resting place? It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, for to them the Land of Israel is a land like all others. Those who do not keep the Torah have no concept of kedushah. The Star of David to them represents a strong, courageous warrior who vanquished the giant Goliath. It is a romanticized emblem of how they envision themselves, the tiny country that must overcome all odds against it.
Perhaps they are unaware or they purposely ignore that in that encounter, Dovid proudly declared for all to hear, “You come to me with a sword and spear and a javelin, but I come to you with the name of Hashem” (Shmuel I 17:45). They have no appreciation for the kedushah of Dovid, his ameilus in Torah, and his deep relationship with Hashem. To those who have no sense of sanctity, there is no shame. Everything, even disgracing the center of its very own banner, goes.
Now that their plans have been leaked, we must protest this chillul kedushah. Were any other country to take a Jewish shrine and convert it for another purpose or use it for another religion, there would be a forceful public outcry. Immediately, we would protest this insensitivity and charge the offenders with anti-Semitism. However, because it is the State of Israel, we are lulled into a false sense of hope, fooling ourselves that somehow things are different. Unfortunately, history has taught us otherwise. Political gain and monetary considerations trump all principles and matters of conscience.
We must daven to Hashem for the plans of these non-believers to fail. Hishtadlus should be made by phoning the Israeli Consulate and emphatically conveying our disapproval of their plan. But perhaps there is something else we must do: some soul searching of our own. If we want to maintain a hold on a makom kadosh, we must ask ourselves: How do we treat the places of kedushah that are under our control?
Do we treat our shul with the proper kavod that is required, like the mikdash me’at that it is, with a realization that the holy Shechinah is present amongst us? If we feel free to speak idle words there, especially during davening, then we are defiling a makom kadosh. Why, then, are we surprised that the chilonim are doing the same? All too often, we see people pulling out their cell phones and perusing its information as they step out of Shemonah Esrei or even in the middle of davening. How involved can one be in his tefillos with a cell phone on his mind? Unfortunately, this has become widespread even in the most chareidi circles. The fact that only yechidim do it is of no solace, for if the tzibbur would consider it abominable and not tolerate it, those individuals would be embarrassed to do it. If one were to pull out a cigarette during davening, would that be tolerated? Why is this any different?
Rav Yisroel Salanter once rebuked his talmidim regarding a decline in the level of shemiras Shabbos. He decried the blatant chillul Shabbos in the big cities. One of the talmidim asked, “Why are we to blame if the non-religious are being mechallel Shabbos?” Rav Yisroel answered, “If we would be more meticulous in our observance of the halachos to the minutest detail, it would have an impact on the level of shemiras Shabbos everywhere.”
All the neshamos of Klal Yisroel are connected. Who knows? If we are zealous in treating our mekomos hakedoshim with the fullest reverence, it might pull along the soul of the chiloni in the Knesset and make him think twice before relinquishing our hallowed mekomos. In this merit, Hashem will not allow their plans to become a reality.