By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Forty-seven years ago, for the first time in nearly two millennia, the Temple Mount came under Jewish control. There were open miracles in the battle in which enemy forces threatened to annihilate Eretz Yisrael and its people. A bomb landed on the Mir Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. Miraculously it did not detonate. And of course, we got the Kotel back—a place we could not even visit for the previous 19 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 HaBayit, 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 (May 28 this year). It might therefore be beneficial to review some aspects and halachos of the Kotel and how we must relate to it now in its current state.
Saves the World. Firstly, let us note the significance of the Beis HaMikdash and its continuing relevance in our own times. 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 save the world. He writes that their tears and supplications keep the world intact, and were it not for their prayers at this holiest of places, the world would be destroyed.
Presence of Shechinah. The Midrash (Sh’mos Rabbah 2:2) tells us that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, has not budged from the Western Wall. The presence of the Shechinah, according to the Alshich (Vaiykra 25:29), is the surety, the promise, that Hashem will ultimately redeem us.
Sign of Hope. These two sources indicate to us a positive, hopeful aspect of the Makom HaMikdash, in our times. It is a place of enormous kedushah, 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 inspiring and uplifting.
Sadness and Pain. At the same time, the destruction of the Beis 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 tear should never be repaired completely.
The destruction should move us. Indeed, the Mishnah Berurah (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.
Obligation to Maintain Sanctity. The fact that we do have sovereignty over the Temple Mount and its regions obligates us in maintaining its sanctity. Technically, gentiles should not be allowed to enter the inner section of the Temple Mount—from the “chayil” and further in (see Mishnah 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 video editor to request a gentile to film sections of the Temple Mount because he will stay there longer on account of the request.
When Praying There. It is important to note that when dealing with the Beis HaMikdash and davening at the Kotel, our focus must be on HaKadosh Baruch Hu, not on the physical aspect of the Kotel itself. Indeed, a fascinating point, recently confirmed 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 Kodesh HaKedashim.
Another question arises as to whether there exists a mitzvah to go to Eretz Yisrael during the shalosh regalim, even in its current state of destruction. The Rambam in Hilchos Chaggigah (1:1) states that there is no mitzvah because the obligation is only to bring the Korban Chaggigah and Korban Olah and to appear in the Temple. The opinion of the Tashbatz (Responsa III #201), however, at least according to the way most Acharonim 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 S’dei Chemed, the Chasam Sofer (Yevamos 44a), and the Aruch LaNer. The Ran in Taanis (first mishnah) also writes this.
Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, 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 seven days of tashlumim. (Once, my brother-in-law accompanied him on the way back from the Kotel on yom tov and asked him where one puts up a zecher l’churban in a house if there is no place to put it opposite the door. He responded that one should place it above the door in such an instance.)
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.
The ideal method of performing the mitzvah is on the first day of the yom tov, as Rav Elyashiv had observed it. This can be seen from the words of the Rambam in Chaggigah 1:1. So, whoever is in Yerushalayim and can make the walk to the Kotel on the first day of yom tov should definitely do so. If one can afford to travel to Eretz Yisrael for yom tov, then one should do so as well. v
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