The Kotel: An Open Letter to Mr. Bennet and Mr. Lapid

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by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

Dear Mr. Bennet and Mr. Lapid,

It is an interesting shidduch between the two of you, and the entire Jewish world is unsure of what lies in store as you are to be handed the reins of government.  There are, of course, two concerns that the Torah world has. One concern is that, notwithstanding Mr. Lapid’s stated family ties to the Shla HaKodesh – there is a possibility, chalilah, of infringing upon Jewish ownership of Har HaBayis.  The second concern is the possible infringement upon the sanctity of Tefillah in the proximity of Har HaBayis.

Almost five hundred years ago, the Jewish world united in its adherence and dedication to the principles and primacy of halacha – with the emergence of Rabbi Yoseph Karo’s Shulchan Aruch supplemented with the remarks of the Ramah.

Fifty one years ago, for the first time in nearly two millennium, the Temple mount came under Jewish control. There were open miracles in the battle, where enemy forces threatened to annihilate Eretz Yisroel and its people. A bomb landed on the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. Miraculously it did not detonate. And of course, we got the Kotel back – a place we could not even visit for nineteen years – since the Jordanians captured it in 1948.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place on earth where Hashem’s Divine Presence was and is still most concentrated.

The Kotel is the last remaining wall that surrounds Har HaBayis, the Temple mount and is called the “Wailing Wall” because Jews have gathered before it to cry over the loss of the Temple, the Beis HaMikdash.  The day that we got back the Kotel and the eastern half of Jerusalem is known as “Yom Yerushalayim” and is commemorated on the 28th of Iyar each year. It might therefore be beneficial for us to review some aspects of the Kotel.

SAVES THE WORLD

Firstly, please be aware of the awesome significance of the Bais HaMikdash and its ever relevant enormity in our own times as well. There is a verse in Ovadiah (1:17) that states, “And on the Mountain of Zion shall be the salvation.”

The Emek HaMelech (14:134) writes that this verse teaches us that the prayers of the righteous and great people of Yerushalayim at the Western Wall are what saves the world. He writes that their tears and supplications keep the world intact, and were it not for their prayers at this most holy of places – the world would be destroyed.  Please keep this in mind regarding both of the concerns mentioned at the beginning of this letter.

PRESENCE OF SHECHINA

The Midrash tells us (Shmos Rabbah 2:2) that the Shechina, the Divine Presence, has not budged from the Western Wall. The presence of the Shechina, according to the Alshich (VaYikra 25:29), is the surety – the promise, that Hashem will ultimately redeem us.  So please, Mr. Bennet and Mr. Lapid, realize that the mantra of the Jewish people since time immemorial, since Abraham our forefather left Ur Kasdim in Sumer,  is, “Ain Od Milvado – there is None aside from Him” and keep this in mind as you guard both of these holy treasures.

SIGN OF HOPE

These two sources , the verse in Ovadiah and the Midrash in Shmos, indicate to us a positive, hopeful aspect of the Makom HaMikdash, in our times. It is a place of enormous Kedusha – holiness, and one which brings current salvation to the world now, and the hope and promise of the ultimate future redemption of the Jewish people. This is remarkably inspiring and uplifting – please take this to heart.

SADNESS AND PAIN

Yet at the same time, the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash evokes deep feelings of sadness and pain. We rip Kriyah when we see it. It is not just a regular Kriyah but the more serious one that occurs near the heart itself. When we rip Kriyah, the ripping should never be repaired completely.

The destruction should move us. Indeed, the Mishna Brurah (561:4) writes that on the day that a person first sees Yerushalayim in its state of disrepair it is proper and appropriate for that person to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine.

This should remind us all, especially those who have been placed in charge of guarding the treasures of the nation, of the grave responsibility we all have.

OBLIGATION TO MAINTAIN SANCTITY

The fact that we do have sovereignty over the Temple Mount and its regions obligates us, and the two of you, to maintain its sanctity. Technically, gentiles should not be allowed to enter the inner section of the Temple Mount – from the “Chayil” and further in (See Mishna Keilim 1:8 and Tzitz Eliezer 10:1:10 for the contemporary application).

Indeed, in 1871, Charles Clermont Ganneau, a French archaeologist and diplomat, found a stone with an inscription in Greek which forbade entry to all gentiles past that point. Thus a travel agent should not promote a tour to Israel for gentiles who will ascend to the inner section of the Temple Mount. Indeed, it is even forbidden for a videography editor to request a gentile to film sections of the Temple Mount because he will stay there longer on account of the request.  So please, keep this in mind.

WHEN PRAYING THERE

It is important to note that when dealing with the Bais HaMikdash and davening at the Kotel, our focus must be on HaKadosh Boruch Hu and not on the physical aspect of the Kotel itself. Indeed, a fascinating point, confirmed a few years ago by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, is that when davening at the Kotel one should not face completely toward the Kotel. Rather, one should face left – toward the Kodash HaKadoshim.  So please keep this in mind as well – of your holy obligations.

AND DURING THE YOMIM TOVIM

Another question arises as to whether there exists a Mitzvah to go to Eretz Yisroel during the Shalosh Regalim – even in its current state of destruction.   The opinion of the Tashbatz (Responsa III # 201), at least according to the way most Achronim understand him, is that there is indeed a Mitzvah of Aliyah l’regel, even nowadays when there is no extant Beis HaMikdash. This is also the view of the Sdei Chemed, the Chasam Sopher (Yevamos 44a), and the Aruch LaNer. The RaN in Taanis (first Mishna) also writes this.  True, the Rambam in Hilchos Chagiga (1:1) states that there is no Mitzvah because the obligation is only to bring a Korban Chagigah and Olah and to appear in the Temple.  But others follow the first opinion.

RAV ELYASHIV

Rav Elyashiv zatzal was careful to observe this Mitzvah and go to the Kotel every Yom Tov. When he got older and could no longer make the walk he would do so during the latter days of the Yom Tov – the 7 days of Tashlumim.

The fact that we currently have access to the Kotel, thus has remarkable relevance, as we can now fulfill this Mitzvah according to the Tashbatz.  Please keep this in mind.

The ideal method of performing the Mitzvah, however, is on the first day of the Yom Tov as Rav Elyashiv zt”l had observed it. This can be seen from the words of the Rambam in Chagiga 1:1. So, whoever is in Yerushalayim and can make the walk to the Kotel on the first day of the Yom Tov should definitely do so. If one can afford to go to Eretz Yisroel for Yom Tov from Chutz LaAretz, then one should do so as well.

CONCLUSION

So please, Mr. Bennet, Mr. Lapid, do not abandon the great birthright of the entire nation. Don’t abandon the birthright of Sinai.  Promise that you will never do anything that will abandon Har hayais, the Kotel, and the Kedushah of Tefillah in its environs.

The last time there was a unity government, Menachem Begin approached Levi Eshkol and begged him to make the right historical choices – and take back Har HaBayis and Yerushalayim – or Jewish history would never forgive him.  He did. May Hashem grant you both the strength to make the correct decisions.

The author may be reached at [email protected]