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Foundations of Peace

11/09/2023 01:19:14 PM


Would you be surprised to learn that Sandy Springs was named Sandy Springs because there used to be some bubbling springs around Mount Vernon and Roswell Road? Buckhead is called Buckhead because Henry Irby who resided in what was known as the settlement of Irbyville killed a large buck and placed its head in a prominent location. Well, that’s the story that is told. The origin of the name Toco Hills is a little more disputed. The name comes from the Toco Hills shopping center that was either named after the Brazilian word “toco” which means good luck, or it is a shorthand way of saying “Top of the County.” Dunwoody’s story is a little more straightforward, as it is named for the railroad pioneer who helped bring rails to the region, Major Charles Dunwoody. 

The name of a place carries meaning, and the names of places in our Torah portion is no exception. In Parshat Chayei Sarah, we read of the matriarch Sarah’s passing in a place called Kiriyat Arba. The Torah then immediately notes that Kiryat Arba is also known as Hebron. Why does this city have two names, and why does the Torah record both? Looking at all the times the city is mentioned in the entire Bible, it appears that at some point the name “Arba'' might have been the name of a mythical giant in the region as the city became associated with these giants. The name would therefore be understood as meaning “The City of Arba'' or “Arba’s City.” However, because of some grammatical hints elsewhere in the Torah, most scholars think Arba is not a proper name, but rather “four” as in, “the city of four.” This is notable because the alternative name of the city, Hebron, shares a root with the Hebrew word for “friend,” and thus often understood to mean a city known for its friendship or some sort of confederation between nations. This jives well with the stories of Abraham, as he resides among the other nations in the region, fighting wars alongside them as allies, and sharing his monotheistic teaching with the myriad of perspectives. It’s not surprising that he encounters Ephron the Hittite in the City of Four which is also the city of the confederation. 

Living amongst people of different nationalities, and purchasing land in Kiryat Arba/Hebron, the story reminds us that Abraham didn’t live an insulated life. He lived amongst the nations and carved out a spot for himself in the Fertile Crescent. Similarly, as we read this story, we reflect on our own lives and the cultural bridges we build with our neighbors around us and the social contracts that we create in order to live side by side with one another. It matters to us how we relate to other people, and how other people treat us. Thus, when these relationships become strained, as they have this past month as we defend Israel’s response to terror, we recognize the importance of raising our voices and standing up for our beliefs and values. We stand up not in order to break away, but to insist that we are part of this confederation and that we too can safely and meaningfully live amongst our neighbors. We raise our voices because we yearn to create a true and permanent place where people of all nations can come together in peace – a foundation (yeru) of peace (shalom) – a Yerushalayim/Jerusalem. 

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784