Shechem: The first city of our forefathers

Shechem often gets a bad rap as it is the city where Dinah was raped and Yosef was sold. However, before those two horrible occurrences, Shechem was the place where Avraham and Yaakov arrived safely when they reached the Land of Israel.

In Breisheet 12:6-7 we read about Avraham’s arrival:

Avram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, at Elon Moreh. The Canaanites were then in the land. God appeared to Avram and said, “I will assign this land to your offspring.” And he built an altar there to God who had appeared to him.

According to Rashi, Avram stopped in the city of Shechem in order to pray on behalf of Ya’akov’s sons, anticipating the time when they would come to fight against Shechem, the prince. Rashi then explains that Elon Moreh is another name for Shechem. God showed Avram Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval where Israel would take upon themselves the oath to observe the Torah.

Radak explains: Rashi alludes to the fact that Avram saw a prophetic vision of the rape of Dinah in that town, and how the sons of Yaakov would avenge that deed. He therefore stopped there and offered a prayer on behalf of the family of Yaakov, asking God to save them from the pursuit and hatred of the Emorites who would try and avenge their compatriots. We know that this prayer was answered from Breisheet 35:5 “the fear of God was on these cities..`.”

Radak continues: Avraham foresaw that there the Jewish people at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval would confirm that the Torah was binding for them.  The word Elon is an allusion to the oath the people would swear in that location not to violate those commandments. Avram prayed there asking God to make the hearts of the people amenable at that time to take upon themselves this oath

Ramban quotes the famous saying from Midrash Tanchuma: “Everything that occurred to our forefathers is a sign for the children.” The verses recounting the journeys of our forefathers come to teach about the future…Avraham took possession of this place (Shechem) at the very beginning, even before the land was given to him. It was thus hinted to him that his children would conquer this place first before they would merit it, and before the guilt of the dwellers of the land was complete to warrant their exile from there. And therefore, it stated, “and the Canaanite was then in the land.” And when the Holy One, blessed be He, gave him the land by His word, then he traveled from there and planted his tent between Beit El and the Ai, since it is the place that Yehoshua conquered first….

When Yaakov returned to the Land, Shechem was his first stop as well (Breisheet 33:18-20):

Yaakov arrived “Shalem”, safe in the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan—having come from Paddan Aram—and he encamped before the city. The parcel of land where he pitched his tent he purchased from the children of Chamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred kesitahs. He set up an altar there, and called it El-Elohe-Yisrael.

Rashi explains the meaning of the word “Shalem”, safely, literally, whole, perfect, unimpaired —Yaakov was unimpaired in body (health) as he was cured of his lameness (after fighting the angel); whole in regard to his possessions for he was not short of anything even though he had given Esav a huge gift (for his remaining cattle soon bore other young); and perfect in his knowledge of the Torah for he did not forget his Torah learning while he was in Lavan’s house (Talmud, Shabbat 33b).

Even though the city of Shechem may seem tainted to us due to the atrocities that later occurred there, we must remember that Shechem was the spot where God showed Avraham, the first “oleh chadash” (new immigrant) that he finally arrived at his destination and that his offspring would eventually inherit the entire land. It is also the place where Yaakov, the first “toshav chozer” (returning citizen) finally felt calm, complete and truly at home again after being on the run from his brother. As well, it was the spot where B’nai Yisrael as a nation took upon themselves the oath to observe the Torah.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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