The Western Wall draws people of all backgrounds and faiths. Why?
1) Site of the Holy Temple
The Western Wall is the only surviving remnant of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by Titus in 68 C.E. The Temple, the center of the spiritual world, was the main conduit for the flow of G-dliness into this world. When the Temple stood, there was respect for G-d, for His Torah – and for each other. There was no doubt about G-d’s existence. There were no atheists. Every body acknowledged one G-d and understood the genius of His laws. The world was filled with awe of G-d and love of G-d.
The Temple Mount is also called Mount Moriah. This is the spot where Abraham bound Isaac, and where Jacob dreamt of the ladder reaching to heaven. The Sages explain that the name “Moriah” is actually a play on words: “Moriah is the place from which instruction (horah) goes forth, from which the fears of heaven (yirah) goes forth; from which light (orah) goes forth.”
The Holy Temple served the non-Jewish world as well. When King Solomon built the Temple, he specifically asked G-d to heed the prayer of the non-Jew who comes to the Temple (Kings I 8:41-43). The Jewish prophet refers to the Temple as a “House for all nations” (Isaiah 56.7). The Temple was the universal center of spirituality, a concentrated point where G-d-consciousness filtered down into the world.
In ancient times, the service in the Holy Temple during the week of Sukkot featured a total of 70 bull offerings. This, the Talmud explains, corresponds to each of the 70 nations of the world. In fact, the Talmud says that if the Romans (who destroyed the Temple) would have realized how much benefit they themselves were benefiting from the Temple, they never would have destroyed it!
2) Permanent Reminder of God’s Presence
The Sages prophesied that after the Temple’s destruction, the Divine Presence will never leave the Western Wall. For this reason, the Wall will never be destroyed. The Wall is endowed with everlasting sanctity. The Talmud (Megillah 3:3) says: “And I will make your sanctuaries desolate” (Leviticus 26:31) – this means that the sanctuaries retain their sanctity even when they are desolate. (See “Secret of the Western Wall“)
The Wall is therefore a symbol of the Jewish People: Just as there have been many efforts to destroy the Wall – and yet it remains eternal, so too the Jewish People have outlived its enemies and remain eternal!
In the Torah, G-d assures us that the Jewish People will never be destroyed. In establishing the eternal covenant, G-d tells Abraham: “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations, an eternal covenant, to be your God and the God of the descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7).
As Mark Twain wrote: “Other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
3) Place of Pilgrimage and Tears
During the times of the Temple, Jews from around Israel would make pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times each year. During the 1900-year exile, Jews would travel to Jerusalem at great expense and danger, just to have the chance to pray at the Wall. There, they would pour their hearts out to G-d, beseeching him for Jewish redemption. They watered the Wall with their tears and melted the stones with their kisses.
The Talmud (Brachos 32) teaches that when the Temple was destroyed, all the Gates of Heaven were closed — except for one. That is the Gate of Tears. The Western Wall therefore also become known as the “Wailing Wall” – because of all the tears Jews have shed there.
From 1948-1967, during the Arab occupation of the Old City, Jews were forbidden access to this holy cite. Imagine the joy each Jew feels today at the easy opportunity to go and pray at the Western Wall!
4) Focus of Prayers
Three times a day, for thousands of years, Jewish prayers from around the world have been directed toward the Western Wall. As Rabbi Judah HaLevy so poignantly said: “I am in the west, but my heart is in the east (Jerusalem).”
Our mystical tradition teaches that all prayers from around the world ascend to the Wall, from where they then ascend to heaven. The Talmud says: “If someone is praying outside the Land of Israel, he should direct his heart in the direction of Israel. If the person is praying in Israel, he should direct his heart toward Jerusalem. Those in Jerusalem should direct their hearts to the Temple. As the Bible says, “And they will pray to You through the land which You gave to their fathers, the city which You chose, and the house which I have built in your name” (I Kings 8:48).
5) Built with Love and Dedication
When the Temple was being built, the work was divided among the different sectors of the population. The building of the Western Wall fell to the lot of the poor, and they worked hard to construct it, as they could not afford to hire laborers to do their work for them.
When the enemy destroyed the Temple, the Angels descended from on high and – spreading their wings over the Wall – said: “This Wall, the work of the poor, shall never be destroyed.” (from “Legends of the Land of Israel”)
6) Site of Jewish Heroism
When the First and Second Temples were destroyed, and during the Bar Kochba revolt, Israel’s heroes fought like lions for every stone of the Temple. They have served as the example of bravery for Jews ever since.
Like them, our soldiers in 1967 fought in holy trepidation to liberate the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
Written by Rabbi Shraga Simmons, with thanks to “The Western Wall,” published by the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
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