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Sunday, September 30, 2012


Photos by Rimonah Traub.

Chol HaMoed is a perfect time for a family outing to Shilo which is only half an hour, driving north by car from Jerusalem. Not far from the modern day settlement of Shilo is the area where it’s believed that the Mishkan rested during the time of the Shoftim. It’s thrilling to walk in these hills and imagine the myriads of Jews who came to bring their offerings in those ancient times.
 Shiloh which means "tranquility", "rest", "peace" or "security," is synonymous with the Mishkan and was the capital of the Jews for 369 years. Shilo promoted unity among the Jews since it was a religious center and assembly place during the period of Joshua and the Shoftim.

At that time, the Jews were new in the Land and on a very high spiritual level. Rav Avigdor Miller says that they actually felt the presence of G-d over them as their true Ruler. They therefore did right in His eyes. The greatness of the nation and the nobility of the women is exemplified by the deep piety of the wife of Pinchas, the son of Eli HaKohen. When she heard of the capture of the Holy Ark, the tragedy was so personally devastating that it caused her to give birth early, it overshadowed the death of her husband and her own imminent death, and it made her oblivious to the birth of her son whom she called Ichavod (Shmuel I, 4).   

The Yidden entered the land under Yehoshua bin Nun. During the first 14 years of conquest, they were centered in Gilgal, just northeast of Yericho and the mishkan was there (Yehoshua, 4:19). Later it moved to Shiloh (ibid18:1-10).

For the 369 years that the Mishkan stood in Shiloh, it was the holiest city to the ancient Israelites who made a pilgrimage three times a year. During one of these pilgrimages, Chana, the barren wife of Elkana, came to pray for a son. Many halachahs of davening are derived by Chazal from the prayers of Channa as she expressed her longing to be a mother.  Her supplications were answered and the child became the famous prophet Shmuel (Shmuel I, 1:3), who was raised by Eli the Cohen Gadol in Shilo.
 Shilo was centrally located in the portion of Ephraim and was convenient for all the tribes to reach. The Midrash says that when Yosef and Binyamin met in Egypt, they cried on each others’ shoulders. Binyamin foresaw the demolition of the Mishkan of Shilo in the portion of Ephraim, while Yosef saw in his mind’s eye the destruction of both Temples that were located in land belonging to Binyamin.

The Mishkan in Shilo underwent changes from that of a portable desert tabernacle. The transient structure of the desert became a more permanent one as the tall planks of acacia wood overlaid with gold were replaced with stone walls. The roof retained the original woven curtains. At some point during its long stay at Shilo, the tent seems to have acquired “doors" (ibid  3:15). The Shilo Tabernacle was the intermediary step between the Tent of Meeting (Ohel Moed) of the desert and the Beis HaMikdash. 

There is a tradition from the Middle Ages that the tombs of Chana, Eli, Chophni, and Pinchas are in Shilo. Rav Ashtori Haparchi (1280-1366) who immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1313 writes in his book Kaftor v'Ferach of passing by Shilo and seeing a group of Jews weeping and praying by a stone. Upon inquiring, they answered him that this was the burial place of Eli the Kohen Gadol. Today we do not know the graves’ locations, but presumably their graves are in the area.

Shilo remained the capital of Eretz Yisroel until the death of Eli. The city was destroyed by the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant was captured (Samuel I, 4 & 5). For the people of that era, the destruction of the Shilo Mishkan was as devastating as the Churban Beis HaMikdash is to us. They used to refer to Shilo as Tanath-Shiloh which means the ‘Mourning of Shiloh.”  

The actual place of the Mishkan is not certain. The explorer Wilson suggested the northern plateau of Tel Shilo as the possible site of the Tabernacle. In aerial photographs it can be made out that there is an area north of the Tel that was hewn for some specific purpose. The plateau of 77 feet fits Wilson’s measurements. There are holes bored in the rock where the posts of the courtyard perimeter curtain could have been.
Israel's enemies attempt to deny our nation's connection to its homeland, but archaeologists keep digging at the facts to prove the opposite. We don’t need more proof, we have the Tanach, but it is nice to know.

The modern community of Shilo is spread over the hills overlooking Tel Shilo. The Gush Emunim movement had its eye on Shilo as a potential site for a settlement as early as 1974.  In January 1978, a community was established adjacent to the ancient biblical site. In 1979 the Israeli government officially authorized Shilo's status as a recognized village. 

At the end of 2008, Shiloh had a population of 2,300 people. On November 27, 2011, the Israeli Defense Ministry approved two plans to build 119 new housing units in Shilo. These will expand the settlement by 60%. According to Chazal, the smell of incense hung in the air of Shiloh even after its destruction. Chesed, representing the smell of the incense, characterizes modern day Shilo and saturates the air.  In Yishuv Shilo, the synagogue is designed like the tabernacle even the steps to the woman’s gallery look like the ramp of the mizbe’ach.

Although Shilo is so full of history and in “heartland” of the biblical narrative, it is not a very well-visited place. But it is one of the most dramatic sites in the country and well worth a visit.

On Chol Hamoed activities are held here that fit in with the nature of the place. A modern look-out-balcony was set up for visitors to Shilo with a beautiful view of the valley where some of the most colourful stories in the Tanach took place. From the balcony one can view pristine landscapes; to the west Arab villages, among them Seilun. Then one sees modern Shilo, behind which is the Jordan valley that cannot be seen from the balcony as they are behind. Modern Maale Levona is to the west and Har Grizim to the north. Shilo has a visitors’ centre with an interesting model of the Tabernacle and an engaging audiovisual presentation. There are many hiking-paths around Shilo and the whole day can be spent here walking in the footsteps of the tzadikim and characters of the Tanach. All hikes must be officially guided and accompanied with arms.

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