There has been much hullabaloo lately with regards to the Kotel and what position it ranks in terms of holy places for the Jewish nation. Many express indignation when the Kotel is referred to as the holiest site of the Jewish people as opposed to Har Habayit. While I concur that it is technically not accurate and feeds the inertia that further estranges us from Har HaBayit, I must admit that I find an element of truth in that statement.
Last Monday I was invited to attend a Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel for the son of my husband’s childhood best friend. He came in from the States with his family to celebrate the momentous occasion. I am always profoundly moved watching a boy morph into a man as he puts on his tefillin for the first time, but the feeling intensified as I watched this boy who traveled thousands of miles from Brooklyn with his family to do so in Israel at the Kotel. My eyes darted to and fro trying to sort the many goings on that simultaneously transpired. There was a number of other Bar Mitzvahs taking place, tourists coming and going, the obvious regulars and others who just needed to be there to connect or who came to pray, bargain, beg, cry or plead desperately to the One above for some sort of help or miracle. I watched as countless people came and went while the words “holiest place for the Jews” danced around in my head.
I understand that Har HaBayit contains the “holy of holies” which is considered the holiest place on Earth. This is where the Even HaShatiya/Foundation Stone is located. It sits beneath the dome of the rock, where the holiest part of the Temple stood and where heaven meets earth. It is the source of connection, the wellspring of life, the place where Noah and our forefathers offered up sacrifices to G-d, a unique and essential place which no other location can compare. This is where the first and second Beit Hamikdash stood and where the third and final one will one day be rebuilt.
I grew up with the impression that it is forbidden to ascend Har HaBayit. It was not until recent years that I learned that it is not a simple matter and that I might be able to go. After consulting with my Rav, I found out that it was permissible for me as long I did the necessary preparations and took the proper precautions. I was moved to tears and felt like an estranged child who was told I could return home. My experience on Har HaBayit was surreal and had a profound effect on me. I found myself unable to speak, which turned out to be a blessing because all I wanted to do was pray and that is forbidden. I loved being on Har HaBayit, I felt like I was on top of the world and time stood still for a short while. I was depressed when I left knowing that I would not return so quickly. “Har HaBayit Biyadeinu” had shifted all too quickly from a declaration to a question. Political and religious reasons have kept our people distanced from our holiest place on earth. We do not have the luxury of flocking to Har HaBayit to pour out our hearts and souls and connect freely with G-d.
And so we flock to the Kotel instead.
Although technically it is not THE holiest place, it does hold a unique status that propels it to the top of the list. The Kotel, broken, old, tired, wailing wall is available to us 24/7. And despite our flaws, our fights, and our failings, it grants us solace and connection in a way that we desperately need and utilize. It has been the portal of tears, prayers, hopes and dreams. Those stubborn stones did not crumble despite the destruction of our Temples. They lasted thousand of years waiting for our return and they stand with us as we beseech G-d and hope for our future.
Every heartfelt prayer is holy and the Kotel has been the spot where Jews worldwide have poured out their souls. The Kotel is the place that has seen, heard and felt so much holiness from Jews around the globe and will continue to be so until the day that we truly have Har HaBayit in our hands. There is a holiness of the Kotel that reflects our people – the good, the bad and unfortunately, at times the ugly reality that is the Jewish nation. It is real, it is raw and it is our very essence to which the Kotel testifies. Of no other place can that be said and so if people call the Kotel the holiest place for the Jewish people, cut them some slack because there exists much meaning and value behind that statement.