Just recently my granddaughter Meira was married. Before the wedding (as is the custom of many brides here in Israel), she invited my wife and I to accompany her as she would ascend to the Temple Mount (Har Habayit). Today in Israel there is great discussion on the permissibility of visiting the Temple mount. Many renowned rabbis forbid it citing the fact that we are all in a state of ritual defilement and therefore are not permitted to enter the perimeters of Har Habayit.
However, there are enough rabbanim in Israel who permit it, with the stipulation that one make the proper preparations and visit only certain designated areas on Har Habayit. Both men and women must first immerse in a mikveh, and when walking on the Temple Mount, no leather shoes may be worn.
Our entire entourage of approximately 60 people walked around the perimeter of the mount, never stepping into the area that was forbidden according to all rabbinic opinions. The local police who went with us the entire way were sensitive, courteous and supportive. The experience was impactful, and when finally we exited the Temple Mount singing and praising Almighty G-d, I was overcome with emotion.
“Nivneh Hamikdash, Nivneh Hamikdash” – “We will rebuild the Temple, We will rebuild the Temple”
Suddenly it dawned on me that in 1967, during the Six-Day War, the armies of Israel recaptured the Temple Mount and the surrounding outer wall, which we refer to as the Kotel.
“Har Habayit b’yadeinu” – “the temple mount is in our hands,” they cried.
The place that housed the Shechina, the presence of Almighty G-d, after two thousand years, was in Jewish hands. It was a time to rejoice, a time for jubilation.
But instead of embracing that moment, instead of rejoicing in that realization, the Jewish people chose to embrace the symbol of the destruction of our people and the long exile that we experienced. We chose to embrace the Kotel and this would become our holy place of continued prayer.
The Talmud in Tractate Taanit states the when the Jewish people were faced with imminent destruction of the second Temple, the young kohanim ascended to the roof of the Temple and heaved the keys of the Temple upwards to heaven. The Talmud continues that a hand emerged from heaven, ostensibly the hand of G-d, and caught these keys, forever removing them from our people Israel.
In 1967, after a victory that all would have to agree was miraculous, we recaptured the Temple Mount again. In my estimation Almighty G-d was returning the keys to Israel crying:
“I am here for you.”
Instead, General Moshe Dayan returned the keys of Har Habayit to the Arab Waqf, as if to state, we don’t value these keys that represent the presence of Almighty G-d. We prefer to take ownership of the outer wall of the Temple, the Kotel, whose importance and holiness pales to that of the Temple Mount.
The Lubavitcher Rebbi, as quoted in the biography Rebbe written by Joseph Telushkin, states:
“When Israel took control of Judea and Samaria, her soldiers should have said to the Arabs living there, ‘You made it known that had you conquered us, you would have killed us, man, women and child. We are not like you. We will not kill you, but you cannot expect us to let people who wish to kill us continue to live amongst us.’ ”
The Rebbe believed that after that war we had the unique opportunity to rid ourselves of our enemies, that the mood of the world at that time would have accepted our action. But we lost that opportunity.
In my estimation, we also lost the opportunity to bring the geulah, the redemption of our people and the coming of the Messiah. The world then would have accepted our actions, but we failed. We chose destruction and defeat as depicted by the Kotel over Har Habayit, representing resurgence and hope, the very presence of the Shechina of Almighty G-d.
It was then that I decided personally that I would visit the Temple Mount more often, and in my own way beg G-d for forgiveness on not accepting back the keys of the Holy Temple that he tried to return to us once again.
I pray that in the future we will be given this opportunity again, and this time, arise to the challenge and rebuild our destroyed Beit Hamikdash for the last time.