The Temple Mount: Crisis or Harbinger?

As the curtain begins to rise on the final scene of the redemption of the nation of Israel, an ancient tradition that tells us that Eliyahu HaNavi—Elijah the Prophet—will sound a great shofar to herald the crescendo of Jewish history. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, one of the great thinkers of the last century, teaches us that this shofar, this “voice of Elijah,” will come in the guise of historical events. I can’t help but think that that recent events on the Temple Mount may very well be some of those notes sounding from the shofar of  Eliyahu.

While we are now entering Tisha B’av, the day that marks the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, the fiery end to everything Jewish on the Temple Mount, and the end of Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem and the land of Israel, we are doing so in the context of a week that is characterized by the weekly Torah reading that was chanted in synagogues the world over this morning, and will be read again on Thursday and this coming Shabbat.

The Torah reading opens with the heart-wrenching prayer of Moses. Imagine this moment: Moses, the great leader of the Jewish people, had been told by God that he would not be allowed to lead the Jewish nation into the land of Israel; he would never taste the sweet fruits of his decades of devotion, struggle and labors. The Jewish people would enter The Land, and Moses would be left behind. “Please,” Moses pleads, “You have just begun to show me Your greatness …” From Moses’s perspective, though he had led the nation out of Egypt and witnessed the awesome miracles of the ten plagues, the splitting of the sea, the revelation at Sinai and more, he was just beginning to see and grasp God’s awesome, transcendent reality. And Moses understood that he had gone, spiritually speaking, as far as he could. He could grow no more, grasp and see no more, unless he were allowed to step foot in the land of Israel. And so he pleaded: “Please,” Please let me pass over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain, and the Lebanon.”

The Midrash tells us that the “goodness” of the land of Israel is that it is uniquely suited to the spiritual refinement and elevation of the Jewish people. The “good mountain,” the Midrash says, is Jerusalem, and the “Lebanon,” is the Temple itself. (The word Lebanon comes from the word lavan, meaning white, because it is through the Temple service that spiritual stains are whitened.”) Moses was begging to continue the spiritual ascent that was part-in-parcel of his leading the Jewish people from exile to redemption to the promised land. And the only way Moses could possibly go higher was to enter the land of Israel. And to go higher still, to enter the city of Jerusalem. Higher still? To ascend the Temple Mount and the Temple itself.

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Tell me, do you hear the shofar? Do you hear the voice of Elijah sounding from within the historical events through which we have been living these last seven decades; seven years, seven weeks, seven days?

Moses longed to enter Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple, in that order. And isn’t that precisely how Jewish history has been unfolding in the last century? At first, the long-exiled nation of Israel prayed and struggled to enter the land of Israel, and then, in 1948, the essential tenor and momentum of Jewish history shifted: once again the land of Israel, the State of Israel, was the living center of the life of the nation of Israel. But what of the Jerusalem that we, like Moses, yearned so deeply for. Barely two decades later, in 1967, the unimaginable happened: Jerusalem! But what of the Temple Mount, and what of the Temple itself? Is that not our ultimate destination, the culmination of all we long for?

There was a time when the Muslims of the Middle East fought against our return to the good land, but they failed. There was a time when they fought to keep us out of Jerusalem, the good mountain, and they failed. And so, over the last decade and a half, they have focused their opposition to the return of the Jewish people to an opposition to our very presence on the Temple Mount, the site of the Lebanon. And, it seems, that here too they will ultimately fail. You see, in the last few days, something extraordinary has happened. As a result of the murders on the Temple Mount, ZAKA, the organization that cares for the dead after accidents and terror attacks, has turned to its esteemed rabbinic leadership for guidance on how to carry out its activities on the Temple Mount. And not just anywhere on the Temple Mount, but in areas where all Jewish authorities agree that no Jew should go. Nonetheless, the opposition to Jews reconnecting with the Temple Mount has resulted in a situation where we are now immersed, for the first time in two millennia, in the intricacies of Jewish law relating to where and how and under what circumstances a Jew can enter anywhere on the Temple Mount. The rabbinic guidance that ZAKA has received relates to questions of the presence of “Israelite” Jews, those of Levitic lineage and even those from the Kohen, the Priestly lineage.

Israel. Jerusalem. The Lebanon. As Tisha B’av begins, do you hear the sound of the shofar? The “voice of Elijah” in the guise of historical events?