Holiness Amidst The Unholy

Somehow, amidst all the unholiness of the “Holy Land”, the Wailing Wall got to me and was for me a spiritual moment.

Endlessly
People mourn
Declare their need here

No temple
No roof
Over their heads

They pray and
They pray
Up against these cliffs

They believe
They hope
They dream

The wall
Sweats of it
The air is heavy

(And we
All the while
Are taking pictures)

– Hans Bouma

Understand that security is tight in Jerusalem, at any time. But we visited on a day that was a perfect storm of threat: Friday afternoon when Muslims go to the Temple Mount to pray, Jews are preparing for Shabbat and the Jewish Sabbath, and that much is normal Friday afternoon, but on this afternoon it was the beginning of Rosh Shoshanna and in the evening the Palestinian leader would address the UN calling for the formal separation of Palestine and recognition of the Palestine state. So there were Israeli soldiers everywhere!

But somehow the Wailing Wall was a tiny haven, although noisy and confused, of faith.

To understand the Jewish connection to the Wailing Wall you have to understand the history.

First you need to understand the story of the Exodus, as related by all the tour guides. You will recall that Moses was reluctant to take on the task of leading the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt and to the Promised Land because of a speech impediment. So God said, “Use Aaron to do the talking.” So the Lord asked Moses, “OK, where do you people want to go?” And Aaron launched into a long, flowery speech, whereupon Moses interrupted to cut to the chase and said to God, “To Ca . . . a. . . a . . . a . . . ahhhh.” And God said, “Fine Canaan. You got it.” Well, Moses and Aaron went home and looked up this Canaan on Wikipedia and said, “No oil! Not much water! Lots of rocks! A Dead Sea! What’s with this?” So they went back to God and He said, “You again! You asked for Canaan and I gave it to you. What now?” And Moses stammered out, I . . . m . . . m . . . meant . . . Ca . . . a . . . a . . . l . . . i . . . f . . . f . . . for . . . nia!” Or Canada, or Columbia . . . it just depends on the make up of the group.

Anyway, when Moses led the children of Israel out of captivity in Egypt toward the Promised Land, they were instructed to build a Tabernacle which is where God would meet his people. The directions for the Tabernacle were quite specific, and it had to be built almost, without being irreverent here, like a circus tent, so it could be easily collapsed, transported and reassembled. God’s presence in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle was represented during the day by a pillar of cloud and at night by a pillar of fire.

Once the people reached the Promised Land the portable Tabernacle was replaced by the First Temple built in 957 BC by King Solomon on what has become known as Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. The temple not only represented the glory of God, but the glory of Solomon and the power of this people, and so it was the object of repeated attack by a Pharaoh of Egypt and the King of Assyria. Each time it was sacked, but they rebuilt. Finally it was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC and the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon.

The Second Temple was constructed in 516 BC and was constructed at the site of the original temple. In 19 BC it was renovated by Herod the Great and so is called “Herod’s Temple”. Herod’s Temple lasted until 70 AD when the Romans, under Titus, sacked Jerusalem, defiled and then destroyed the Temple and carried the spoils of war back to Rome including Jewish captives to be used as slaves and the golden candlestick or Menorah from the now destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. If you look on the inside of the Arch of Titus near the Coliseum in Rome you will see a bas relief of the Jewish captives carrying the spoils of war including the Menorah into Rome.

All that remains of the Temple is the Western Wall or Wailing Wall which wasn’t the wall of the destroyed Temple itself, but the wall of the rampart on which the Temple was built.

Today it is the holiest Jewish place in Jerusalem where Jews come to pray in separate men’s and women’s sections. I had prepared before a little slip of paper containing my brief prayer. I went up to the wall and found myself strangely moved and I put my head against the wall and prayed and then stick my little paper containing my prayer into the Wailing Wall.

Let men learn to live together in peace and harmony. May my family be safe and have health and happiness. And may Brandon Hein be freed from prison.

That was my prayer then, and it still is today.

[For more information on Brandon check out BrandonHein.com]

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