Thursday, July 19, 2007

Visiting Har Habayit

It is the nine days. I think it appropriate to devote a few postings to the Mikdash.

There are certain places in Israel that inspire me deeply. It is difficult to describe the feeling that Ir David, the Southern Wall excavations, Minharot Hakotel, evoke in me. One feels that one is touching the past, that one is almost there, at the Temple! That just a few steps away, we too could touch that wondrous place, that amazing era of the Mikdash. I run out of my house and hail down a car in alon Shevut to get a "tremp" (hitchhike) en route to lead a tour in the Old City. I say to the driver "Yerushalayim!" He nods, and I get in. Wow! Unreal! This is historic! I can say the "magic word" and in a half hour, I am there! For 1900 years has it ever been this easy to stand בחצרות בית ה'- in God's back yard? What would our anscestors, our great-grandparents only say if they knew that one could be on the steps to Har Habayit just a short drive from my house? They would think the Mashiach had arrived!

So this is truly amazing.

I said that I would devote a posting to visiting Har Habayit.

First, Halakha. It would appear that one may visit Har Habayit after going to the Mikve, as long as one remains outside the precinct of the "chel" the raised platform of the Mikdash. One enters without leather shoes, without a wallet, and in a state of reverence and simcha. There seems to be little argument about the permissibility of all of this.

And yet, I have not been. Many of my friends and Rabbis have been. I find it difficult to bring myself to do it. And as with so many things in my life, I have clashing ambivalent feelings about this.

Why not go? The first aspect is the feeling of מי יעלה בהר ה' ומי יקום במקום קדשו נקי כפיים וכ' ועיין תהילים פרק ט"ז. To ascend Har Habayit demands a high spiritual level, a purity of mind and action. Do I really match that level? I have many flaws in my religious efforts and my religious level, my middot, my shemirat mitzvoth. Am I the one to push myself forward to a place that only a fraction of the Torah-observant world enter?

I recall some years ago that my Yeshiva chavruta spent some time in the Yeshiva in Moscow on shlichut there. A few weeks after he returned to Israel, the "iluy" of the Yeshiva arrived on Aliya. My chavruta greeted him at the airport and asked him: "Do you want me to take you to the Kotel?" The Russian yeshiva bachur looked at him in bewilderment. "How can I go yet?" He said. "First I should learn for a while in eretz Yisrael, in Ir Hakodesh. Then after a month or two, maybe I will reach the madrega (religious standing) to venture to the Kotel."

We visit the Kotel quite casually. But Har Habayit?

A second hesitation relates to the political realm. One argument for a Jewish presence on Har Habayit is political. Everyone knows that the Arabs control Har Habayit. Motta Gur may have declared that "Har Habayit Beyadeinu" but unfortunately the Waqf do as they wish there, and if they could no Jews would step foot there. We know how much they ruined in building the underground mosque at "Solomon's Stables" and they actively try to eradicate any Jewish traces there. For our own honour and for our historic rights and roots in the place, we must state loudly and clearly that it is Har HaBAYIT, and not Al-haram Al-sharif!

And that is a very good point. How can we Jews be denied access to our holiest place. People frequently say that the Kotel is the holiest shrine to Jews. Nonsense! Har Habayit is the only place where I am restricted entry due to its sanctity. How dare we abandon it? I greatly identify with this argument. We should establish Jewish entry to Har Habayit as a norm.

But on the other hand, I hate the politicization and Messianisation of all of this. So many organizations (like Machon Hamikdash) are so into the very structure and architecture of the Mikdash. Is that truly the essence? And when the Messiah comes, will he necessarily rebuild Herod's Roman style structure? And why are we so obsessed with the building itself? The prophets constantly warned (see Jeremiah #7) that people were giving undue importance to the Temple, and too little attention to their own deeds, their crimes, immorality and sins. Every month, there is a procession called "Sivuv Shearim." They walk around the gates of the Old City reciting Psalms, praying , singing , dancing. This yearning for the Temple. Is that the way? Or should we be fighting crime, corruption, prejudice and injustice in the streets of Jerusalem, in the shuk and in Ben Yehuda, in Government and the business community. Should we be campainig for minimum wage legislation, against woman trafficking, against government irregularities and party appointmenst to the Civil service. Sometimes this yearning for the Temple seems like a misplaced desire. At times it feels simply like a naïve hope for better times i.e. that all our problems should disappear. At other times it feels militant. And then again, many times it appears heartfelt and genuine, holy and humble, earnest and true, and the my words sound rather cruel and cynical.

Anyhow, all this political stuff (which also relates to unrealistic assessments of the political reality eg. not having to deal with Human Rights in the West Bank because God wants us there anyway) makes me insecure and nervous. Is Har Habayit the place to be making these statements? What statement am I making by going up to Har Habayit? On the one hand am I saying that Har Habayit is Jewish? Or am I expressing my desire that somehow (miraculously) God will build his Mikdash a.s.a.p. however improbable that sounds.

For me, I always feel that rather than us waiting for God, God is waiting for us to practice Justice, to act like a ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש, to create a society of kindness and holiness, of humanity, warmth, sophistication, morals. Will the Mashiach come by visiting the Har Habayit or visiting the hospital? By making political statements, or by challenging the corruption of politics?


Ze'ev said...

why must it be one or the other? Strive for social justice while yearning for the Temple?

Alex Israel said...

I guess it is when people are yearning for the Mikdash but very much AT VARIENCE or APART from the consensus, that I find it jarring. They think they are leading the nation, but they stand alone, and noone is marching behind them!

Ze'ev said...

Nearly every revolutionary change that took place within the Jewish people started off with a small minority leading the way...

Starting with Avraham until the modern day establishment of Israel.