Friday, April 29, 2005

A Defining Moment

Meqom HaMiqdash Posted by Hello
Every so often one has an experience that transcends most of what has gone before in one's life. Every so often, if we're lucky, God provides us with a moment that is nothing less than ineffable. Yesterday, I had just such an experience, when I ascended Har HaBayit for the first time. Even now, I am still at a loss to describe the thoughts and emotions that washed over me.
Ascending Har HaBayit was not an impetuous act on my part. I thought long and hard about. I spent time delving into the halakhic and the archaeological details. I undertook a lot of Heshbon HaNefesh as to whether it was the right thing to do. Once I was convinced of the latter, I had to decide whether it was the appropriate thing for me to do. Neither decision came easily. In fact, as late as yesterday morning I seriously considered not going. Nevertheless, I finally decided that not only is it permitted to go, I was obliged to go. First, after a proper tevillah, ascending the Mount offers the possibility of observing mitzvot that would be otherwise unobtainable (E.g. Morah Ha-Miqdash, and Tefillah ba-Miqdash; though not Rei'ah ba-Azarah-except according to R. Aqiva Yosef Schlesinger). [Here I must give credit to the role played in my decision by the wonderful and inspiring halakhic/archaelogical/hashqafic discussions contained in the collection Qumu ve-Na'aleh by my friend and former student, Rav Yehudah Shaviv.]
Second, the Arabs constantly work (with success) to destroy any traces of the Bet HaMiqdash and to deny that it was even there. The Muslims have succeeded in this to such a degree that Ha HaBayit is mentioned in the media first as 'Haram a Sharif' and then as 'the place that Jews claim was the site of King Solomon's Temple' Jews must go up to the mountain to assert the fact that this is 'Hamaqom asher yivhar HaShem.
However, there was an even greater consideration. In his famous remarks upon completing the first chapter in Hullin, the Rov zt"l (who I am fully aware would most likely not have supported my decision) commented that by nature, a Jew craves Qedusha. That, in brief, is why we mark the completion of a tractate of the Talmud by saying 'Hadran Alakh' ("We will return to you'). We feel the strong need to return to sources of Qedusha. [The full text is available in J. Epstein's Shiurei Harav: A Conspectus of the Public Lectures of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.] I felt drawn, inexorably, to the fountain of sanctity that lies at the center of Har HaBayit, at the center of the world, at the veritable Gates of Heaven. Obviously, again using the Rov's terminology, even on the mountain there would be clear self-restrictions, a clear act of sacrifice since the area of the Temple and the Azarot would be off limits. Nevertheless, just as I felt when I decided to come on Aliyah, I could not countenance the fact that I had the chance of coming closer to the Shekhina and I did not seize the opportunity.
The experience itself was a radical mix of emotions, starting with the preparations and anticipation. Going to miqveh is something all religious men do at least once a year. However, this was a different type of tevila. I had never had to think about hatzitza in the first person. I had never had to consider saying a blessing on tevila (cf. Tosafot, Berakhot 22b.s.v. ve-let). On the way to Jerusalem, and while waiting to be allowed up with the group I had joined, I tried to prepare myself spiritually and emotionally.It was hard. I had no idea what to expect.
In the end, entering felt very natural. The spy sent by the waqf to prevent us from praying stayed behind us, so I was able to say Qabbalat Ol Malkhut Shamayim (a moment that can't be described), Pirke Tehillim and Mishnayot. Our guide, aside from showing us the route around the mountain that avoided the Maqom HaMiqdash, pointed out the place of the Azarot, the altar, the steps to the Hulda Tunnels and integrated prayers into his presentation. I felt uplifted in a way that I never had before. God's presence was truly in the קול דממה דקה, in the still small voice.
At the same time, it was clear that we were still in Galut. עַל הַר-צִיּוֹן שֶׁשָּׁמֵם, שׁוּעָלִים הִלְּכוּ-בוֹ. The destruction wrought by the waqf was everywhere to be seen. There was every reason to tear our clothes, except that it was Hol HaMoed.
I was feeling this last sentiment very keenly, when two things happened. First, we were approached by Rav Yosef Elbaum. Rav Elbaum is a Belzer Hasid who, since 1969, has constantly visited Har HaBayit and devoted his life to raising awareness of the mountain and of the Miqdash. He urged us to come as often as possible.
Then we reached the area behind the Dome of the Rock, the site of the real Kotel Ma'aravi, that of the Qodesh haQodoshim. There are no words for this. לך דומיה תהילה.
We walked out backwards, bowed toward the Maqom HaShekhina and exited through the Sha'ar HaShalshelet that leads to the Kotel. As I left I felt as if I was fighting against gravity, against the force of sanctity that pulled me back in. As we stood back from the gate, and the waqf resumed their iron grip on Har HaBayit, we started to sing:
אדיר הוא יבנה ביתו בקרוב במהרה, במהרה בקרוב אל בנה - בנה ביתך בקרוב
It was time to cry from gratitude, from pain, from longing for hope.


Anonymous said...

beautiful. I had a similar experience when I went up. Out of curiosity, why do you think the Rav would have opposed it?

daat y said...

I cried with your description and feelings.I will go IY'H.

Anonymous said...

The Rav stated the Kotel is not worth one life. Among other times Spring 1968 in Rubin Schul during YU controversy re invitation to the late Lord Caradon

Jeffrey said...

I have no idea what that has to do with this issue. The Rov said that feasability of peace based upon territorial compromise with the Arabs is determined by the experts. It is my expert opinion, as an historian, that nothing short of self-immolation wil achieve peace with the Arabs. I say this based upon a principle respect for Islam and Arabic culture. That being the case, the retention of the Har HarHaBayit is the best path to ensure the rights of both Jews and Muslims. said...

anon's comment re: the Rav is just another example of the Centrist Orthodox Osloid Peace Messianists (read: your cohorts in the Orthodoc Caucus) who have turned one statement of Rav Soloveitchik's into an entirely warped "peace" theology which requires abandonment of territory and appeasement in order to placate the goyim and show secular/reform Jews that not all Orthodox Jews are fanatic nationalists.

daat y said...

please let's not generalize and or personalize.The Rav himself would tell everyone to think for themselves.This is now 2005 not 1968. different times.Jeffrey I agree with you.

Jeffrey said...

I might add that the Rov never said it was a mitzva to give away parts of EY. He said it was a legitimate halakhic possibility. I think that's where the distortion comes in (as with Rav Ovadiah Yosef's view, as well).

I recently received a transcript of a meeting between the Rov and a representative of them PM Begin, in which the Rov emphatically stated his opposition to the establishment of a PLO state in EY. Such a state, he is recorded as saying, would be no better than a genocidal Nazi State.

Saul said...

An excellent post.
I was also overwhelmed by the destruction. The trees, were there should not be any. The debris strewn around. The kids playing ball & running all over the place.

Oysvurf said...

can you post the transcript? or at least a link to it if it's on the net.