The medrash says that when we enter the World to Come, the first thing we will be asked is: “Ha’im tzipita la’yeshua – Did you long for and anticipate the redemption?” “Of course!” we’ll say. “Didn’t we say Ani Ma’amin almost every day of our lives?” Well, we might say it, but that doesn’t mean we really truly feel it, understand it, live it.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty busy most days. I run from place to place, from one thing to another, constantly checking my “List of Things To Do.” I barely manage a quickie Shacharit before I run for a bus. Yeshua? Redemption? Who has time to think about such things? It’s not even on my list.
Besides, here in Israel we are already living in a state of semi-redemption. The State of Israel is probably the most mind-boggling, significant gift God has bestowed upon His people in the past two thousand years. And in 1967, it seemed as though the complete redemption was imminent. Who even dreamed of Judea and Samaria before ‘67? Who knew the names of the gates into the Old City? (Who even knew there were gates?) Who knew what the Beit HaMikdash looked like? Or what sacrifices were brought? Or what utensils were used? These were all considered too complex, esoteric and futuristic to deal with. Yet today every religious school in Israel considers these topics de rigueur. Is this not the beginning of redemption?
The Machon Hamikdash has reconstructed vessels and musical instruments used in the Temple, clothing worn by the Kohanim and Leviim and a model of the Beit HaMikdash which is now as familiar as the Israeli flag. Even the laws of purity for ascending the Temple Mount are studied in depth in select yeshivot. Is this not a sign of redemption?
Archeologists are hard at work laying bare the past. Stores, streets and tunnels alongside the Kotel; Ir David – an entire city! – exposed; an imposing structure which might have been the residence of David HaMelech; a small golden pomegranate like those worn on the robe of the Kohen Gadol; Biblical names inscribed on stone; ancient mikvaot and roads and stores leading to Har Habayit. An entire world is being revealed.
The city walls have been repaired and lit up. The contemporary Jewish Quarter has been rebuilt. The Kotel has been transformed from a “wailing wall” to our national Beit Knesset and gathering place for smachot. On Tisha B’Av and Yom Yerushalayim throngs of people circle the walls and walk on its ramparts. Millions have come from around the world to tread upon its stones and experience the sanctity of the world’s Holy City. Are these not also signs of redemption?
A lifelike model of the Beit HaMikdash stands in the Israel Museum. An amazing three-dimensional digital tour inside the Beit Hamikdash can be viewed at the Machon Hamikdash or the Museum of Jewish Music. Based on all the available sources, they are as accurate as any reproduction can be (taking into consideration the differing halachic opinions). But how “real” are they for us? How much do we really miss having a Beit Mikdash? Do our synagogues and batei midrash suffice? Can we even conceive of what the Beit HaMikdash once meant to the Jewish people, and to the world at large?
We tend to take reality for granted. The miracle of Jerusalem is mind-boggling, but by now, so natural, normal and everyday, that we tend to forget how mind-boggling it really is. We forget that the Temple Mount is the focal point of Creation, the site of the Akeida, opposite God’s heavenly throne, the portal to Heaven through which all the world’s prayers are channeled to the Upper World. As one kid I know said so pithily, “Hashem hears everywhere, but He hears better on Har Habayit!” In sum, Jerusalem is now on center stage, not as a hope, not as a dream, not “if I forget thee,” but in reality, the most treasured “real” estate the Jewish people possess. Are we not walking down the road to redemption?
That is why there has been a growing interest and demand in gaining access to the Temple Mount, despite all the halachic complexities and stringencies this requires. But what stands on the Temple Mount today? The Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock! And who has the authority to control the Mount? The Moslem Wafq and the Kingdom of Jordan! According to hazy, outdated agreements, they share “religious” control of the site while Israel is responsible for “security.” Jewish prayer is prohibited (!) and only small numbers of Jews are allowed on the Mount at specific times after stringent security inspections (no tallitot, tefillin, siddurim; and once atop the mount, no praying, bowing or moving of the lips! So much for “religious freedom”). Is this not the ultimate chilul Hashem?
Even those who believe strongly that the time has not yet come to ascend Har Habayit feel the shame of it being under the control of the Kingdom of Jordan and the Islamic Waqf. They would like to see the holiest place in the world closed off and set aside until further notice.
The Arabs have turned the Middle East conflict into a war for Har Habayit. It’s not about a Jewish State. They murdered Jews long before the Jews had a state. It’s not about a Palestinian State. They were offered a state and “land for peace” time after time and refused. It’s not about “settlers” or the “occupation.” They murdered us long before there were any “settlers” or “occupation.” It’s all about the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, and the Land of Israel. They instinctively understand, perhaps even more clearly than we do (to our shame), that this is the essence of the conflict. Who will inherit God’s country and build God’s House – Yitzchak or Yishmael? What will crown the Temple Mount – the Beit HaMikdash or the Dome of the Rock?
The question remains: What are we to do? Despite a sovereign Jewish state, Islam continues to sit atop Hashem’s mountain. Do we truly understand the significance of this situation? Are we truly anticipating the Third Beit HaMikdash? Or are we satisfied to sit back in our various lands of Exile waiting for the Final Redemption? Or to happily reside in Eretz Yisrael, relish our hard-earned and thriving little state, and wait until some new universal upheaval forces us to take further action.
The truth is that there’s not much any of us can personally do except grieve over the present state of affairs, continue to build and hope and pray and to anticipate the Complete Redemption. Meanwhile, we go along our merry way, seemingly satisfied with the Kotel, the lone remaining support wall of the Temple compound.
But as we enter Chodesh Elul, let us at least tear a symbolic, spiritual keriah and share the pain of the Shechinah. Let us hope and pray that we, as a nation, will have the necessary strength, wisdom and Heavenly assistance to move forward. And that we will see the day when, once again, God’s nation ascends Har Habayit in purity and holiness to rebuild God’s House, the place where the Shechinah is eternally present. And perhaps we will even be privileged to see it happen in our time, during this coming year, 5778. Ken y’hi ratzon.