I often get calls from friends and relatives from the old country asking me to daven on their behalf at the Kotel, Kever Rachel, or any other holy place. Recently, after receiving such a request, my husband and I set out for Yerushalayim. On the way, instead of going to our usual destinations, we decided to go to the kever of Shmuel HaNavi, located immediately past the Ramot neighborhood of Yerushalayim. I believe the last time I was at this kever was when I visited Israel with my family as a child. It has obviously undergone some major changes since then.
Fortunately, there was no endless search for parking at this kever, and we drove right up to the gate of the park. The parking area immediately fosters a Biblical atmosphere, as we were greeted by horses and a camel. We thought we had chosen an inspiring place to daven, which we did. But although that was the most important attraction of the site, we were treated to many other interesting things above and beyond the purpose of our trip.
Nebi Samuel Park, the official location of Kever Shmuel HaNavi, is situated right in the middle of an Arab village and is under the jurisdiction of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. It is open all day except for the hours of 2 a.m. – 4 a.m. I’m not exactly sure what happens during those two hours. The park has fascinating antiquities, agricultural landscape, mountain springs, and orchards. The main structure of the site is a large fortress built by the Crusaders in the 12th century. Incorporated in the church building of the fortress is a mosque from the 14th century. The site is recognized by Jews, Muslims, and Christians as the burial place of Shmuel HaNavi. Jews and Muslims come to pray at the same time as each other, each in its designated area of the building. The kever of Shmuel HaNavi is located in a cave under this fortress. That is where the Jews go to daven.
Surrounding the Crusader-era fortress are ruins of a residential settlement from the time of Bayis Sheini. Excavations discovered two rows of buildings dating back to the times of the Chashmonaim (2nd century BCE). Below these ruins, remnants of a settlement from the Persian era ((6th -4th centuries BCE) were found, including pottery from the era of Malchus Yehuda. One can also find ancient machinery on the grounds such as a Byzantine wine press, a kiln, and a pottery furnace.
Many consider this site to be the Biblical Mitzpah, the place where Shmuel sat and judged the people. These archaeological discoveries support this assertion. There is an orchard of strawberry, olive, and fig trees which is located alongside a small spring known as Hannah’s Spring. Chana was Shmuel’s mother. In the caves near the spring, entrances to burial caves from Bayis Rishon were found. It says in Sefer Shmuel that Shmuel was buried in Ramah. For many generations, this city of Rama was identified as the site of Kever Shmuel HaNavi, next door to the city of Ramot in Yerushalayim.
The location of Nebi Samuel has strategic importance. As a result, battles for its control took place dating back to World War I. The site was recaptured by the Jews in the Six-Day War in 1967.
When my husband and I went in to daven, not only did we feel the holiness and auspiciousness of the place, we also felt as though we were taking a journey through history. There were much fewer worshippers than in some of the other kivrei tzaddikim we’ve been to, but the atmosphere was no less stirring. On the ladies’ side, there were women of all ages petitioning Hashem with sincere devotion. Shmuel HaNavi’s mother gave birth to him after she had been barren for years. For this reason, it is considered a segula for women to come to his kever to daven for fertility. They also come to daven for success in raising their children in the proper way.
The twenty-eighth day of Iyar is the yahrtzeit of Shmuel HaNavi. This date also happens to coincide with Yom Yerushalayim. There is a very old tradition of people coming to Shmuel HaNavi’s kever on that day and learning (mainly Kabbalah) and davening. This minhag is supposedly even mentioned by Rabi Ovadiah of Bartenura. There was also a minhag, possibly even before the minhag started at Meron, to bring little boys to Kever Shmuel HaNavi for their chalakeh/upsherin,
their first haircut at the age of three. Shmuel was a nazir, as his mother promised he would be if she were to give birth to a child. As such, he never had a haircut. Today, many continue with these minhagim and there are even special chairs upon which to seat the child while he gets his first haircut at the site. So, generations ago, people flocked to Yerushalayim to commemorate the yahrtzeit of Shmuel HaNavi, and today people flock to Yerushalayim on that same date to commemorate the liberation of Yerushalayim.
After davening, we were able to walk around the grounds and take in the ancient sites of this national park. What was most beautiful was the panoramic view one can behold on the roof of the Crusader-era building. It is a 360-degree view of Giv’on, Giv’at Ze’ev, and Ramalla in the north, the hills of Beit El and Yerushalayim in the east, the hills of Yerushalayim and Har Chevron in the south, and Giv’at Haradar in the west. The view is exquisite, especially on such a clear day.
When we left, we drove past a large herd of sheep, once again reminiscent of a bygone era. We hope that our tefilot on behalf of the person for whom we came to daven, will join the tefilot of those who came to daven throughout the generations, and that all of our tefilot would be answered b’ahava uv’ratzon.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.