It is said that the Divine Presence still rests where the ancient temple of the Hebrews once stood, beneath today’s Dome of the Rock on The Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
King Herod built a retaining wall around the Second Temple circa 35 BCE. The temple itself was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, and only a small portion of this wall remains today visible above ground. It is at this wall, ‘the Western Wall’, that one can see Jews praying, rocking back and forth. They know they are close to where the Temple once stood and the ‘Holy of Holies’.
I have often looked at these people, wishing that I could feel even a fraction of their fervor, but I am not religious. I don’t feel anything except the suspicion that I am missing out on something, and appreciation that at least some people are showing respect to what might be there.
This past week my cousin Carol came to visit us from the United States. It is her first visit to Israel, and amongst other sites like Masada and the Dead Sea, my husband Mark and I decided to take her on the Western Wall Tunnels tour.
We learned that the Western Wall actually extends much further to the north, but underground. Painstaking excavations have been done since 1967 so that today we can walk through a tunnel that stretches alongside the entire length of this ancient wall. We saw the gargantuan stones that King Herod used, whilst our English speaking guide enhanced our understanding of the site’s history.
Half way along we came to a spot where women were praying. I immediately felt an aura of goodness, of warmth. Then we entered an alcove, perhaps 3 meters by 3 meters, where men were praying. This room has become an underground synagogue, and is reputed to be the closest spot to the ‘Holy of Holies’.
We stopped here for a few minutes whilst our guide spoke. But I was not listening to him. I could feel pouring through the walls, an energy. It was Powerful. It was Good. And the more I allowed myself to focus on it, I understood that this energy was unaffected by time. It was as strong now as it had been 3000 years ago when the temple was first built. It might have originated hundreds of millions of years ago, but at the same time I felt that for It, Time was irrelevant. It always was, is, and will be. I felt through my very bones that there is something UnEarthly beyond that wall.
I had never felt anything like this before. I have never taken drugs, and am not imaginative enough to have conjured it.
I kept asking Mark and Carol, “Do you feel it? Do you feel it? Do you feel the energy coming through the wall?”
They had their own thoughts – for Mark, intense happiness that we had brought our family to live in Israel; and for Carol, a sadness at all the killing that has taken place here in Jerusalem because of religious intolerance.
I wondered if the men praying were feeling the energy too, or just doing what they always do – showing respect and honour to our G-d; but I couldn’t interrupt and ask them.
Tears were coming to my eyes. My fingers were tingling. “How much longer can I stand here with this inexplicable energy pouring through the walls?” I wondered. Thankfully, our tour continued on its way.
We emerged from the tunnel into the hyper-intense normalcy of Jerusalem. I was shaken and totally puzzled by what I had experienced.
I am a logical person and am tempted to ask if any scientific instruments have been brought to that underground alcove to measure radiation, or a change in the magnetic field, or something, to bring some sort of scientific explanation to what I have felt there. And even, can they do this, if they haven’t already? Perhaps this is too sacrilegious to ask. But I want an explanation!
It is thought that fumes from an underground volcano in Greece induced visions in people who prophesied at its Oracle of Delphi; so maybe there is an explanation here too.
This energy that I felt at the underground synagogue does not conform to my personal vision of the G-d of the universe, the one whom I appeal to when I want my family to be safe, or when I want my computer to start working again; but perhaps it is an emissary, and one of many sent throughout the universe.
Up until now I had thought that the story of Moses receiving the ten commandants at Mount Sinai was probably true, but now I believe it is. If what I sensed in the underground synagogue has any semblance to reality, then the Israelites did witness something out-of-this-world at the foot of Mount Sinai. It was enough to have their descendants maintain their faith in G-d and abide by His commandments not only when living in the Promised Land, but also through the subsequent thousands of years of exile and persecution, and up to our glorious return to Zion.
Will I return to the Western Tunnel? Probably; though I am a little afraid to – because either I will feel nothing in the synagogue the next time I go, or given a longer time in the alcove, I could be over-whelmed.
I can’t say that what I have experienced has turned me into a hat-wearing, kosher-keeping, religious woman; but it will propel me to try to be nicer, kinder. The ‘Source’ was sent here for a reason and I will try to respect and honor it in the best way I know.
Photo courtesy of Mark Keil