When responding to the question, “Why do Jews pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem,” Rabbi Tzvi Freeman had this to say.
I think what you’re really asking is: If G‑d is everywhere, why should prayer be more effective in one place than another? In truth, the same can be asked regarding praying in a synagogue vs. praying at home.
The question has been asked many times before in classical Jewish literature. Since this is a Chabad site, I’ll provide the answer given by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), the first rebbe of Chabad.
The essence of his answer is that although G‑d is everywhere, His light shines stronger in some places than in others. He compares this to the human body: You are everywhere in your body, yet you are far more conscious of your mind than of your toes. So too, in the universe that G‑d created, there are places, times and states of being where we are able to be more aware of Him—and it is from those places/times/states that our prayers can fly best.
Any person is able to create for himself a time of day and a special place from which he or she reaches out to G‑d. And we all should—somewhere in our homes or gardens, set aside a place of prayer and meditation, along with a time of day or week that we sit there and connect. Even more special is a place that was chosen not just by us, but by G‑d as well. And that is the Temple Mount, which G‑d chose as His dwelling place in the time of King David.
Ever since then, that specialness has never left the Western Wall, the only remnant left standing.
The Talmud tells us that every synagogue is a “minor Holy Temple.” Thus the above also applies—in smaller measure—to any location designated to be a house of worship for G‑d.
I’ve probably mentioned this before, but one item on my bucket list (not that I have a well-defined bucket list) is to pray at the Kotel, otherwise called the Western Wall. I’m not even entirely sure that, from a Jewish point of view, it would be considered appropriate for a Christian to pray at the Kotel. After all, there is a certain controversy associated with some Jewish women davening at the Kotel, and I’m not even Jewish.
On the other hand, American Presidents and Catholic Popes have prayed at the Kotel, so I suppose it could be permissible for me to do so as well.
Why do I want to?
The Jewish person querying Rabbi Freeman was confused by the significance of even Jews davening at the Kotel. What’s the difference between praying there, in synagogue, at home, or, for a Christian, in church?
Rabbi Freeman answered the question from a Jewish point of view, but can any of that be applied to someone like me?
I think so.
So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.
–Genesis 22:3-4 (NASB)
So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz.
–Genesis 28:18-19 (NASB)
But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. There also you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you.
–Deuteronomy 12:5-7 (NASB)
And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
–Acts 5:42 (NASB)
It is said in midrash that the place where the Akedah (binding of Isaac) occurred was at the future Temple Mount in what would be Jerusalem. This is also supposed to be the identical site where Jacob experienced God at Beth El (literally, “House of God” in Hebrew). We also know from the Torah, that God intended to place His Name in a specific geographic location, which is also understood as the Temple Mount. Further, we see that the early Apostles of Messiah regularly taught and prayed at the Temple, specifically at Solomon’s portico (see Acts 3:11).
All of this seems to indicate that not only Jerusalem, but the site of the Temple, has a special significance to God. Yes, God is everywhere and we are not inhibited from praying to God anywhere, but no other place on Earth seems to hold the presence of God in such a way as Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
And the Kotel is all that is left of the Temple, at least for now.
Also, if it is true that the Temple will be rebuilt and especially if Messiah, Son of David, will rule from Jerusalem and that his throne will be placed there, then any disciple of the Master should be drawn to the Holy City and to the location where Hashem’s Temple has and will once again be established.
Christians have to be careful though, because any attachment we show to Jerusalem and the Kotel can easily be misunderstood by Jewish people as our “taking over” Jewish Holy sites. The church as a long history of supersessionism, so it’s important to respect the overwhelming Jewish history and ownership of Jerusalem and Israel. However, many religious Jews believe that the people of the nations will one day be drawn to Messiah and worship God in Jerusalem, so in that context, we can present ourselves as desiring to honor Hashem at the Kotel. Even Solomon understood this from days of old.
“Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.”
–1 Kings 8:41-43 (NASB)
In desiring to pray at the Kotel, I am only responding to the prayers of the King.
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
–Psalm 122:1 (NASB)
But again, Christians must not forget that it is Jewish eyes that are constantly looking toward Jerusalem and Jewish hearts that “sigh” for Messiah.
“Notwithstanding all this, the Jew … has his heart fixed upon Jerusalem, praying and sighing a waiting, and longing for the coming of the Messiah King, the promised Redeemer of the House of David.”