My moment of being closest to God took place on a cold, snowy day in Jerusalem. It was during a break from my studies at Yeshivat Hakotel. My room was overlooking the ancient stones of the Western Wall and the beautiful Dome of the Rock Mosque. I couldn’t get enough of the kotel (Western Wall) so I walked down the steps and approached my sacred wall, the last remaining wall of the ancient Jerusalem Temple. I walked slowly as my fingers grew stiff and I shivered. The entire sight was covered in snow. Before me was a partially white wall and a snow caped dome. As I approached the Wall, the muazin, the Islamic call to prayer could be heard from up above. I kept on walking, closed my eyes, and touched the Wall. It was at that moment that I became one with the universe, with the Wall, with the Arabic chanting, and with that makom (sacred space). I think I achieved dveikut (cleaving to God). And so, my relationship to this place was changed forever.
We just completed the fast of Tisha BeAv which commemorates the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, so the holy structure which once stood in Jerusalem has been on my mind all day. News of today’s uprising on the Temple Mount, an article that the Temple Institute is planning for the rebuilding of the Temple, and a hope-giving video of a Muslim woman calling for Muslims to stop being so offended by Jews praying at a sight that is holy to both regions made my day one of complex thought.
I recently attended the Ruach Haaretz retreat of Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal in which the theme was “Deep Ecuminism: One River, Many Wells”. At this retreat, we explored our common origins in the human search for the Divine which all of the world’s religions share. During the morning shacharit service we prayed for the rebuilding of the Temple. I thought then, as I did today, “Does this really make sense?” Does the Dome of the Rock Mosque need to be dismantled in order to rebuild the Temple? Must one house of God be destroyed in order for another to be built? I can’t believe that. I don’t believe that. I refuse to believe it. To believe such a thing is to give up hope in humanity and I’ll tell you why.
According to Jewish tradition, redemption can come in one of two ways. It can indeed come through Armageddon. Armageddon is a redemption for a humanity that is in fact undeserving of redemption. The messianic era can also come through acts of peace, loving kindness, justice, mercy, empathy, holiness, and humanity. This is the redemption that we must aspire to.
A messianic era of war and bloodshed will give me no pleasure and it will mean that the leap of faith that God placed in humanity by creating us was misplaced. We could have created a Godly society but we chose evil and bloodshed instead. If the messianic era comes through war then it means that humanity has failed God. No. This is not the redemption that I want. I want to go up to the mountain of the Lord together with Jews, Christians, Muslims and others.
So how will the Temple be rebuilt? I am a traditional believing Jew. I do believe in the faith of my people. I am excited by the resurrection of a building that represents the glory of the Jewish people in its relationship with God. I asked this very question sitting in the Shacharit service at Ruach Haaretz and it was there, in the holiness of the incredibly spiritual shacharit service, that the answer came to me.
We often describe the messianic era in magical, mystical terms. Why not the rebuilding of the Temple? Why must it be a physical structure? Why can’t it be a metaphysical structure? How do we know that our entire messianic reality won’t be a metaphysical reality?
As such, the Temple Institute and the fundamentalists as portrayed in the recent USA miniseries “Dig” have got to rethink what they are doing. Also, if we started speaking in metaphysical terms rather than a physical structure necessitating the destruction of mosques, the Muslims might be less threatened by a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. Perhaps we can share this holy mountain top and we can dream together of the rebuilding of a house of love and peace that all the nations of the world will flock to and pray to the God of Jacob.