Tag Archives: Kotel

Praying Where God Has Placed His Name

ancient-kotel-prayersWhen 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)

Jacobs_LadderIt 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.”

Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein

Messiah and the Temple of God

tallit_templeThe re-building will begin when the Messiah comes. This Third Temple will be on the Temple Mount, exactly where it previously stood. In fact, Maimonides writes that one sign that the Messiah is the real Messiah (and not an imposter) will be when he re-builds the Temple on the Temple Mount.

“Rebuilding the Temple”
Commentary on Tisha B’ Av

Belief in the coming of the Messiah has always been a fundamental part of both Judaism and Christianity. The Hebrew word for Messiah, Mashiach or Moshiach, means anointed, as does the Greek word, christos. Thus in Christianity, Christ is just another word for the Messiah. Much has been written about Jesus as the Messiah within the Christian realm, but little information has been publicized to the uninformed Jewish community concerning the coming of a Messiah, whom all we know about is that he will be a direct descendant of king David. Although Jesus has been proposed by Christianity to be such a descendant, Judaism does not accept Christ as their savior or king. Because the Messiah cannot be separated from God’s Third Temple and because God’s Third Temple is destined for all people…

“Coming of the Messiah”

“For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.”

Jeremiah 33:17-18 (ESV)

In some parts of religious Judaism, one of the very strongly held beliefs is that when the Messiah comes, he will rebuild the Temple on its original site in Jerusalem. In fact, Jewish “anti-missionaries” use the current lack of the Jerusalem Temple as “proof” that Jesus couldn’t have been the Messiah (since if he was, he would have rebuilt it 2,000 years ago).

More than that, according to the Judaism 101 website, the Messiah will do many important things.

The mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15).

Also, according to AskNoah.org, Gentiles will be able to worship in the rebuilt Temple.

Torah Law holds that Gentiles are allowed to bring burnt offerings to G-d in the Temple when it is standing in Jerusalem. There is a specific commandment to let us know that an animal (sheep, goat or bullock) offered in the Temple by a Gentile must be unblemished, to the same degree as the offering of a Jew. (Leviticus 22:25)

The same website citing the prophet Isaiah, declares that in the days of the Third Temple, Gentiles will be able to take on a greater role than in previous eras.

“And it will come to pass at the end of days that the mountain of G-d’s House will be firmly established, even higher than the peaks, and all the peoples will flow toward it as a river. And many nations will go and will cry, ‘Let us go up toward the mountain of G-d’s House, to the House of the L-rd of Jacob, and we will learn from His ways and walk in His paths, for out of Zion goes forth Torah and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.’ ”

Isaiah 2:2-3

But why am I writing about this?

It’s come up on more than one occasion at the church I attend, that certain things have changed because of Jesus. Since I’m kind of sensitive to the spectre of supersessionism (also called “replacement theology” or “fulfillment theology”), what has and hasn’t changed always gets my attention. Both in the Pastor’s message and in Sunday school, one piece of information I’ve heard is that before Jesus came, worship of God was confined to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, worship of God was no longer confined to a specific, geographic location.

You can see that this might present a problem if you also believed the Messiah was supposed to rebuild the Temple upon his return. Would that mean a step backward? Would our “freedom” to worship anywhere be revoked and Jerusalem once again become the locus for religious control and sacrifice to God?

old-city-jerusalemWell, yes and no. Frankly, it’s not that clear cut. We know that even during the Second Temple era, synagogues and centers for prayer (not always the same things) were available for Jews. After all, Jewish people were scattered not only all over Israel in those days, but across the civilized portions of the Earth. Recall the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) who likely was a Jew on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It would have been difficult for most of world’s Jewish population to travel to the Jerusalem Temple every time they wanted an encounter with God. It was very likely that there was provision for both individual and communal prayer for Jews, so the Temple wasn’t literally the only place of worship.

Of course to obey the mitzvot, Jews were obligated to travel to Jerusalem on certain occasions including the moadim and particularly for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but while extremely important, it wouldn’t have been possible for all Jews because it would require leaving home and undertaking lengthy journeys several times a year. While we don’t have much information on him, it’s likely that the Jewish Ethiopian had made only one 1,200 mile long trip between his country to Jerusalem when Philip encountered him. In those days, a trip of such length over land could have taken up to two months, so it wasn’t the “quick dash” it would be by car or plane in our day and age.

Also, looking forward, we have this.

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

Zechariah 14:16-19 (ESV)

It would be very difficult for the representatives of all of the nations of the world to observe Shavuot (Feast of Booths) in Jerusalem if there were no existing Temple.

It is true that John writes in Revelation 21:22 that he saw no Temple in the city, presumably New Jerusalem, but there are vast periods of time being described in his recording of his vision, so we can’t use that one verse as evidence that the Third Temple will never be built by Messiah after his coming (return).

So what’s the big deal?

Only that the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Messiah may not have (permanently) changed as much as we might think it did. The church may ultimately have to integrate a more Jewish perspective of Messiah than we previously have. Yes, many of us think we’ve done a pretty good job at “rediscovering the Jewish Jesus,” but I don’t think the majority of us have truly engaged the reality of what that actually means.

I’m not criticizing Pastor Randy or anyone at the church I attend (and I know Pastor Randy sometimes reads my blog), but I am suggesting that at least in this one area, Christ may not have changed what we think he changed. Unfortunately, many Christians take the idea of what Jesus did to Judaism a little too dogmatically and treat Jews, Judaism, and Jewish Holy sites quite poorly, as this commentary I received on Facebook attests.

I have been at the Wall, Jews Holiest Place, and seen bus loads of tourist arrive. Even I cringed at the sight of shorts, halter tops, men with out shirts, cameras and water bottles in tow. I have seen the garbage left behind. I have heard the ‘chatter’ at the Face of the Wall and observed the frivolity of trying to place a paper prayer ‘for a friend’ in the highest unreachable crack. (a paradise for rock climbers). I have heard prayers for ‘the Jews to be saved”….I have stood by women ‘claiming the place in the name of Jesus”.

Jerusalem, to include the Wall, is not an International place of holiness. Once the sacredness of the place is removed it becomes one more place to be trashed. The fact that the Reform movement, Women at the Wall and other such groups are irritated that ‘they’ can not make the rules and regulations simply indicates their dislike for the Ultra-Orthodox. One side may be Extreme but the otherside opens the door to Liberal attitudes and the slippery slope to “so what, this is just another wall!”

christian-at-the-kotelThe analysis seems kind of harsh but then again, it’s probably justified given how casually and callously some people treat this Jewish Holy place.

To you and me, the Kotel may not have the same meaning, but for most religious Jews (and Jesus and all his apostles were and are religious Jews), it is all that’s left of where once the Divine Presence of God dwelt among His people Israel. It is also a symbol of hope in the coming of Messiah, the redemption of Israel (which doesn’t mean quite the same thing in Judaism as it does in Christianity), and the return of hope, life, and peace for the Jewish people and in fact, for all the nations of the Earth.

If it also happens to be the site of where the Christ will rebuild the Temple and establish his reign as our King, shouldn’t we at least try to respect it’s holiness? I know that in Christianity, we consider each believer to be a “Temple” containing the Holy Spirit, and we tend to look at ourselves as replacements for the physical Temple, but this “human Temple” imagery doesn’t preclude the future existence of a Third Temple. We tend to think that something is either this or that, left or right, one or the other, as if we are computers communicating in binary language, but since we’re dealing with God here, is it too difficult to believe we can be (metaphorically) a “Temple” and the physical Temple will one day be rebuilt by Messiah? Is it too much to ask for both?