THE TEMPLE MOUNT IS IN OUR HANDS?
For the first time since the Six Day War, since the almost surrealistic, ecstatic moment the Jewish world stood in amazement at the electrifying announcement by General Motta Gur, “the Temple Mount is in our hands,” I felt the debilitating impact of the knock-out punch which Tisha B’Av inflicted on the Jewish people. This year, about a week before Tisha B’Av, I was to go up to the Temple Mount with my daf yomi class; we are studying the Tractate Zevahim, learning about the various sacrifices and the precise manner in which, and places where, they are to be offered within the Temple precinct, and I was anticipating pointing out these areas from the backdrop of the Temple Mount itself.
Moreover, I am always suffused with a special sense of sanctity and serenity when I visit the Temple Mount - I had gone up about two months ago during one of the first Jewish groups to begin going up again, and before this last Oslo War I had gone up at least every year before Passover since I made aliyah - and I was strongly anticipating the spirituality, the majesty, the transcendent peace that I was aching to experience, especially before Tisha B’Av.
We had gathered the necessary “permissions” for our group visit: halakhic permission based upon clear maps drawn by Rav Shlomo Goren as to the area that could be entered as long as we went to the mikva and wore non-leather shoes, and military permission granted by the Jerusalem Police force. And then, two days before the planned “trip,” we were informed that we wouldn’t be able to go up because the Wakf withdrew his permission, or at least “couldn’t guarantee the safety of Jews on the Temple Mount.” Hence, I felt the powerful force of the Tisha B’Av blow…. Apparently, the Temple Mount is not really in our hands!
But what is it that makes the Temple Mount so special? How can we define the unique Sanctity of the Temple Mount, which is identified with the Sanctity of Jerusalem and which is separate and apart from the sanctity of the land of Israel. The great twelfth century Sage Maimonides writes that the sanctity of the land of Israel is dependent upon the presence of the children of Israel; the land of Israel provides sustenance, boundaries, a homeland of safety for the people of Israel, and so if Israel is not living upon it, the Sanctity does not come into effect. Jerusalem, however, is “the Sanctity of the Divine Presence,” says Maimonides, “and the Divine Presence can never be destroyed; hence the Sanctity of Jerusalem exists always and forever” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Chosen Temple, Chapter 6, Law 15).
What can Maimonides possibly mean? What he cannot be saying is that there is a palpable physical presence, a Shekhina quotient, to be found in greater measure in Jerusalem or on the Temple Mount than in any other site in the world. Maimonides is after all the theological purist who insists that G-d is absolutely incorporeal, totally non physical, and that all we can say about “Him” is negative attributes, or what “He” is not! So how do we define the phrase, “the Sanctity of Jerusalem is the Sanctity of the Divine presence”?
The Book of Deuteronomy refers again and again to the Temple Mount, the locus of the binding of Isaac by Abraham, as the “site that G-d will choose as the place dedicated to His name” (for example, Deut. 12:11). The prophets speak of the Temple Mount as the place to which “all of the nations shall rush, and shall say, ‘Let us go up to the mount of the Lord, to the Temple of the G-d of Jacob; let us learn from His ways, let us walk in His paths, for from Zion shall come forth Torah and the world of G-d from Jerusalem! They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, humanity will not learn war anymore” (Micah 4, Isaaiah 2, Cf. Zeharyah 7,8). And the word Jerusalem literally means the City of Peace.
Putting all this together teaches that while the land of Israel provides material sustenance, geographical borders and a secure homeland for the children of Israel, the City of Jerusalem provides the word of G-d, the Divine message of morality and peace, to the entire world. The Sanctity of Jerusalem is the expression of our essential unity, a cosmic one-ness, the all in all, ethical monotheism, universal peace - in effect, the true mission of Israel as the messengers of a G-d who demands justice, compassion and world peace - and a work, an idea, especially a Divine ideal - can never be destroyed.
From this perspective, the world’s attitude towards Jewish rights to Jerusalem is a litmus test of where our global village stands vis a vis our vision of peace. On the one hand, our prophet Micah declares in the context of Jerusalem and the acceptance of Divine morality, “for all the nations may walk, each individual, in the name of his god (as long as that name of god expresses the seven Noahide laws of ethical behavior), and we shall walk in the name of the Lord our G-d forever” (4:5). On the other hand, the Moslem Wakf allows everyone - Moslems, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists - to pray there - except the Jews, and Arafat (as well as major Islamic imams) continue to maintain that we have absolutely no claim to the Temple Mount, that our Holy Temples were never there! And the world community remains silent.
The Temple Mount expresses the sanctity of G-d’s majesty, of G-d’s universal rule of justice, compassion and peace. It is for us the most sacred place in the world, because from its hills will emerge the shofar sound of world redemption. I look forward to the day when we will at least be able to erect a Synagogue - House of Torah study in the area that halakha allows us to do so. Then I will know that the erection of the Holy Temple, “a House of Prayer for all nations,” will not be far behind.