My alarm rang at 3:25 a.m. Though my head had only hit the pillow three hours earlier, I jolted from my bed full of energy and excitement. It was Sunday morning, and in a few hours I was to ascend Temple Mount for the first time in my life. Sleep would have to wait.
After the initial rush subsided, confusion set in. Where were my keys? Where were my shoes? I had gathered everything I needed the night before, but in the dark hallway of my house, my head still blurry from lack of sleep, I couldn’t find anything. By no small miracle, within a few minutes I was out the door and on my way to my first stop.
After picking up three friends who were joining me for the trip to Temple Mount, I began the drive to Jerusalem. Along the way, my friend Yoav went over some of the basic religious laws relating to our ascent to the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount is sacred and its grounds are holy, so before entering the area Jewish law requires immersing in purifying waters, which we did in the early morning hours when we got to Jerusalem. However, there are specific areas on the Temple Mount, such as the space where the Holy of Holies resided, which contain even greater sanctity and holiness. One cannot enter these places before going through the biblical process of purification.
We ascended the Temple Mount with a guide familiar with these laws and the architectural layout of the Temple, to ensure that we did not enter places where we are forbidden to go. Our guide brought us to the areas where we could experience the immense holiness and divine presence found on the Temple Mount.
Another thing we knew going into our visit was that we are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. How ironic that the holiest site of the Jewish people – where the Holy Temple once stood, and where, according to our tradition, every single prayer uttered in the world passes through before arriving at the Heavenly Throne – is the only place in the world where we are strictly forbidden to pray!
The law forbidding Jews and Christians from praying on the Temple Mount was enacted to appease the Islamic Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that administers the site, and also to ensure that Muslims are not provoked into violent riots in response to our prayers. It sounds crazy – in fact, it is crazy – yet that is the situation today.
And so, as our group of 27 Jewish men and women entered the gates to the Temple Mount, we were greeted by representatives of the Islamic Waqf, who were there to ensure we did not pray. Meanwhile, a ring of Israeli security personnel formed around us to protect us from both the Waqf representatives and any other provocateurs we might encounter.
The walk around the Temple Mount was unforgettable. I felt like a child coming home to the warm embrace of his parents after having been lost for many years.
As I walked around the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, which stands upon the sacred ruins of the Holy Temple, I closed my eyes and envisioned a bygone time when the Levites played musical instruments on the steps of the Holy Temple. I imagined smoke from the burning incense rising high above the clouds and into the heavenly chambers, and the smell of the sacrifices burning on the altar.
I would have wept, but was mindful of all the eyes staring at us with revulsion. One teenage boy in our group had already been warned by the Waqf that if they caught him sneaking in a prayer they would physically remove him from the Temple Mount.
I can’t fully express my unspoken prayers on that day. Buried deep in my heart, hidden from the outside world, I prayed deeply and intently, yet silently. I understood that God, who can rebuild his Temple at any moment in time, does not yet want our full services on the Temple Mount. Otherwise He would and could make it happen today.
So for now, we must visit this holy site, standing in silent prayer and weeping with dry cheeks, our hearts yearning for a Temple and a time of revelation which has been promised to Israel and mankind.
“If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill,” says Psalm 137:5. God, we will never forget or forsake Your Holy City, and may we witness the times prophesied in the Bible, when Jerusalem will be rebuilt, and all the nations of the world will gather in Your Temple to sing Your praises.