Recently I had the pleasure of guiding the Selwyn family from Brooklyn, NY on a day tour in the Shomron. They were visiting Israel for a couple of weeks with their 6 kids and mostly showing themselves around, but they felt that they would get much more out of their day in the Shomron if they hired a guide.
Here’s what we did:
After meeting them in Jerusalem, we headed off to Beit El. Beit El is the site of so many stories in the Bible! It is where Abraham first lived when he came to the promised land. It is where Jacob had his dream of the ladder with the angels ascending and descending. On a very different note, it is where Jeroboam built one of his two Temples with golden calfs after the 10 tribes broke away from Judah and anointed their own king.
After a short drive around to see the modern settlement, we ascended to the top of a water tower in the highest part of Beit El where we could see about half of Israel! We could see all the way to the Mediterranean sea in the west and to the mountains of Amon (the Kingdom of Jordan) in the east. To the south we could see Jerusalem and to the North far up into the Shomron.
We read about how Abraham stood in this area and G-d told him to look in all directions because Abraham would receive all of the land that he could see. Standing in this place really brought the story to life!
Next we headed north to Tel Shiloh. This is the site of the Biblical city of Shiloh where the Mishkan (Tabernacle) stood for 369 years before Solomon built the permanent Temple in Jerusalem.
We toured the archaeological site of the ancient city. Just outside the city there is a large, flat rectangular area cut out of the bedrock where many scholars believe the Mishkan was set up during its time in Shiloh.
Standing at that site, we read from the Bible about Elkana and his wife Chana. We read how she visited the Mishkan in Shiloh to pray for a son and how Eli the High Priest thought she was drunk. When he realized that she was quietly pouring out her heart to G-d, he blessed her with a son. She promised that if she had a son she would dedicate him to serve in the Mishkan.
She indeed had a son named Shmuel (Samuel) who grew to be a prophet and the leader of all Israel. He helped the nation transition from the period of the Judges to the Monarchy of Saul.
On the way out we saw the area where the archaeologists are doing new work and we could see all of the pottery being sorted according to periods!
After lunch at Shilo, we headed off to Mt. Gerizim. This is one of the twin mountains around the city of Shechem. The other is Mt. Eival.
When the Israelites entered the Land, they were commanded to place 6 tribes on each mountain. The tribes on Mt. Gerizim pronounced blessings to whoever would keep the commandments of the Torah. The 6 tribes on Mt. Eival pronounced curses for those who would transgress the Torah.
Mt. Gerizim is the home of an ancient sect called the Samaritans. The Bible tells how after exiling the 10 tribes, the king of Assyria brought people from Cuta to settle the now empty land of the Shomron. Lions began to attack the new settlers and they complained to the king. He asked the Israelites if they knew anything about this. The Israelite leaders told him that the land would not tolerate people who didn’t keep the Torah. So the king of Assyria ordered Kohanim to go to the Cutim in Shomron and teach them how to be Jewish. Once they did this the lions left them alone. These people became known as the Samaritans.
Over the millenia, there was a lot of conflict between the Samaritans and the Jews. But in recent history, they were saved from extinction by the founding of the State of Israel after their numbers had dwindled to only a few dozen people.
We visited the Samaritan Museum on Mt. Gerizim where we were treated to a talk and presentation by one of their ‘Kohanim’ named Yefet. He taught us about their unique customs and way of life.
Next we visited the Jewish village of Itamar. We visited a unique ranch in the wilderness outside the village. We got to see a lot of animals including goats, sheep, a camel, horses, donkeys, chickens, Turkeys and more. More importantly got to meet these unique Jews who risk their lives to settle the Land that was promised to us by G-d.
We ended our short winter day in Elon Moreh. Elon Moreh is a Jewish village that overlooks the city of Shechem which is unfortunately not accessible to Jews since it is in the Palestinian controlled area.
Here we spoke about Joseph going to seek his brothers in Shechem and ultimately being sold into slavery. We spoke about Shimon and Levi, the two sons of Jacob who killed the entire population of Shechem for raping their sister Dina. We also spoke about the grave of Joseph, Kever Yosef, where the Israelites brought his bones when they left Egypt.
From this spot we were able to point out the site of the altar built by Joshua when the Israelites entered Israel. It was discovered in modern times by the archaeologist Adam Zertal.
We davened Mincha as we watched the sun set over Shechem. As you can see in the picture, it was spectacular!
A great tour of the Shomron
What a great day this was! In one day we visited so many sites that are mentioned in the Bible. The Selwyn children have all learned about these sites in their Jewish day school in Brooklyn, but I guarantee that they will feel a completely different connection to these Biblical stories now that they have stood in the same places where our Patriarchs stood!
Here is what Yisroel Selwyn wrote me after the tour:
Thank you for spending the day with us and showing us the secrets of the Shomron. We loved the way you kept on pulling out your Tanach and quoting the verses that described the path of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs that we were actually travelling all these years later. The stops in Bet-El and shiloh really brought this feeling home. We loved the farm in Itamar where the modern day warriors of Israel reside. To round off the day watching the sunset over shechem, nestled between Har Gerizim and Har Eival was the ultimate bonus. Thank you and hopefully we will be back today with Moshiach!
Yisroel Selwyn and family
If you would like to go on a tour of the Shomron or any other part of Israel with a guide who will bring the stories of the Tanach and Jewish history alive for you and your children, please contact me to set up a tour!