If I Forget Thee…

 

Disclaimer: My son says words cannot capture what went on. I am trying anyway. This is the week before the 9th of Av, the date of the destruction of both temples, so the date (and recent unrest) makes it seem like now is the right time to post this.

Some months ago, I realized that I had an opportunity to get to Israel. Perhaps more importantly, I saw it as an opportunity to bring my #2 son, @Blessedblacksmith, to spend a few days in Israel. I knew it would be a journey of tears.

#2 was last in Israel when he was seven years old, and his memories were understandably limited. More than that: he is now 19, and extremely spiritually “connected” — but had not actually been to the Kotel, the Western Wall of the ancient Jewish temples which were the connection point between heaven and earth.

It was at this place (the “Foundation Stone”) where Avraham offered his son, Isaac, up to G-d as a sacrifice. Some also believe that it is the place where Jacob laid down his head as he was leaving the Land of Israel, where he dreamed of angels ascending and descending a ladder.

So this was the place, some 480 years after leaving Egypt (440 years after entering the Land, mirroring the 440 years between Avraham and the Exodus), where Solomon built the First Temple, installing the Tabernacle on a permanent basis. It was this act that made all other altars forbidden; the Torah tells us that all Jews are to come to this place three times a year. The Temple became the central place of all of Judaism.

The First Temple was destroyed and, after the Babylonian Exile, Ezra the Scribe led remnants of the Jewish people back to Israel to rebuild what became the Second Temple. In time this Temple was reinforced and built in an extremely grand style by Herod, using walls of solid cut rock that were as big as 600 tons (and no mortar).

After the Jewish Revolt (a terrible misjudgment by people who thought that Judaism was supposed to be a military/political force as well as a spiritual one), the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, and our long exile began.

But we have never forgotten. Our prayers, thrice daily, are always toward Jerusalem. We fill our lives with constant reminders that joy can never be complete for as long as the Temple remains destroyed. Indeed, an often told story goes as follows:

It is told of Napoleon, that upon passing a synagogue during the Ninth of Av [which is next week], looked inside and saw Jews sitting on the floor and weeping. When he inquired further he was told the Jews were mourning over the destruction of their Holy Temple. “How long ago did this occur?” he asked. “About 1,500 years ago.” “In that case,” said Napoleon, “there is no doubt that their Temple will be rebuilt. A people capable of crying for so long over its destroyed Temple and Land will eventually find its way home.”

We believe that G-d keeps our tears in a flask, that He treasures our desire to connect with him, even if that connection is through tragedy and suffering, instead of tears of joy.

For over 2,000 years, millions of Jews have prayed, daily, for the rebuilding of the Temple. It is the wellspring of our faith, the place where we can fully serve G-d, as commanded in the Torah.

So I knew that bringing #2 Son there was a Big Deal. Especially this son, this year. It just felt right.

He spent the first few days looking elsewhere in Israel — museums, Masada, etc. And we set Friday aside to spend together, in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The morning started early. I could not sleep; I was so excited about doing this with him. So I woke at about 4, and he woke perhaps an hour later. And we walked from our relative’s apartment in the German Colony to the gates of the Old City. Along the way, I reminded him of all the history and connections we have had. He listened politely (he honors his father), but I could tell (and he later confirmed) that he was taking a “wait and see” attitude.

But then we entered the gates, some ways North of the Wall, and we started walking the cobblestone paths, talking of the Book of Lamentations; the women weeping over their young, the blood running in the streets from the battle with the Romans. As clean as the streets are, you can feel the history, seeping in from all sides. And #2 started shaking and crying, while we walked. We stopped for a bit, #2 composed himself, and we went on.

We stopped to look at a recreated gold Menorah that had been built by the Temple Institute. #2 looked it over, and started critiquing it — it was too large for the 1 Talent of gold (75 pounds), it looked cast rather than hammered, etc. And he got himself in full flow, arguing with the way it was made, while we walked down the steps toward the Wall.

And then the Wall came into few. #2 turned his head, stopped arguing mid-word, and his knees gave way. He could not stand, so we sat on the stairs, and we wept, together.

To my dying day, I hope I never forget that moment. It was the moment when you reconnect through the spirituality of others, the moment when my son became an example to me. I knew that the Wall would be powerful to him (as it is to me), but neither of us saw this coming.

After a while, we resumed our trip, realizing that we had not brought enough handkerchiefs. And we went down to the Wall, walking back into a private space where we could pray against the stone, the veil separating us from the divine. #2 wanted to put on Tefillin first, so we did — he later said that without Tefillin, he could not have handled the experience. He says that he experienced a rush of blood, fear and love, filling him. “I could not handle standing there, before the Lord, bare but for my clothes. The Tefillin were an armor.”

And we went up against the rock, and felt the call of the ages, the countless hands and tears and prayers that had been poured into this little hill. It was as if our souls were being magnetically and inexorably pulled in the direction of the Holy of Holies, reunifying with all of the Jewish people throughout all of history.

After half an hour of individual prayer, we joined a quorum, a Minyan, and davened the more-formal morning prayer (which is still quite chaotic and individualistic among Orthodox Jews). We were also all the way up against the ancient Herodian rock; the aura was indescribably powerful. #2 ended up dropping tears into his prayer book siddur. He worried about ruining it — I assured him that, counter to common sense, these tears were going into the flask anyway, and his prayer book would be improved.

At some point in the prayers, #2 turned to me, and said, “That man over there lost his wife. And he just comes here to connect with G-d; it is what he has left.” I asked how he knew — he said he could tell from his face. I have no doubt that he had the right of it.

I told my son that he was blessed, indeed. After all, most people do not have this kind of connection without going through immense suffering — to be able to reach that spiritual level without enormous trauma is an incredible opportunity, a gift.

#2 is a strapping young man, six feet tall and extremely strong and fit. But this was taking a toll on him; he found standing up almost impossible. We spoke about what it would be like to be here for Yom Kippur, and he said that he could not imagine being able to survive the experience.

So after the minyan (which was nice and slow, lasting almost an hour), we backed away, and found a place to sit. It is interesting to me that the Wall is the only place in the world in which Jews of every stripe pray together; we are a divided people. It is fitting and beautiful that this place is where we come together.

And then we went back into the Jewish Quarter, and started exploring the Temple Institute. The spiritual journey had not exorcized the critic from the child, and so he had many, um, constructive comments about some of the handwork. The Temple Institute tries to build the instruments and vessels for the third temple, and therefor employs researchers, craftsmen, and fine materials to create the vessels. The shovels and trumpets were stellar pieces of handiwork. The same could not be said for the larger pieces, where seams were visible, and gaps let light shine through where it should have not. Jews are very good at a great many things, but not all the craftsmen involved in creating the vessels for the Third Temple are as good as they could be. Not yet, at least. They — we — can do better.

We next went off on the Tunnel Tours. If you get to Jerusalem, I recommend them highly. It is worth it if only to gain an understanding of how many layers of civilization have lived in that place, all the terraforming and quarrying and building that occurred to make the Temple Mount a flat structure. Hundreds of years are measured in vertical feet, thousands of years sometimes in tens of meters. Civilization after civilization. Ancient Jewish ritual baths (so far, 38 have been discovered on one side of the Wall) that are identical in dimensions and purpose to the mikvaot in use today. This City is us.

Our guide was highly informed, and able to answer a range of questions. We discussed the Arab excavations of the Temple Mount, directed by the Wakf, which have been digging out the ancient temple and dumping them in a landfill (where Jewish archaeologists come to sift through and try to re-piece the past even as the Arabs try to blot us out of our own history).

It was also fascinating how local knowledge can differ from the professionals. I am quite sure that archaeologists in Israel are superb, but it was amusing that when they “discovered” cisterns at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, they learned soon after that the above-ground shopkeepers (and their ancestors) had been drawing water from those same cisterns for hundreds of years.

After the tour, #2 and I stopped, to pray at the rock that is nearest the Foundation Stone where Avraham offered up Isaac, where the Holy of Holies was placed. It was a prayer of farewell, of bonding and promises.

We left by the Jaffa Gate. In the archway, sitting up on a wall, was a young woman, dressed in a flowing white dress and playing Yerushalayim shel Zahav on a harp. She looked like an angel. Her friends, presumably also Seminary students, were hanging out and singing along. It was a heavenly scene, and a fitting way to leave the Old City.

There are 28 comments.

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  1. Kevin Schulte Member
    Kevin Schulte
    @KevinSchulte

    :) :) :)

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Thank you.

    • #2
  3. AUMom Member
    AUMom
    @AUMom

    Thank you.

    Any additional words would render my message inadequate.

    • #3
  4. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    That’s one of the most moving things I’ve even read. I didn’t know the purpose or even name of Tefillin. To raise someone with such a deep reverence in this culture is something. What struck me in your beautiful description, was the knowing that you stand on Holy ground, and you become small, in total awe and respect of the majesty of the Creator. I felt like I was there reading your words. Can you share any pictures? Do they allow that? Such a beautiful story.

    • #4
  5. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    First off, thank you for the very kind words!

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    Can you share any pictures? Do they allow that?

    There are many pictures of the kotel and the tunnels. But pictures simply cannot help one connect with the spiritual energy of the Temple Mount.

    • #5
  6. Podkayne of Israel Member
    Podkayne of Israel
    @PodkayneofIsrael

    Years and years ago, my husband was part of the construction crew that tunnelled through the rock to connect both ends of the Kotel tunnel. Back then, not many people were aware of the fact that the Wall continued on beyond the famous excavated section. Sometimes, I used to come down to visit him at work, crouching along the damp tunnel in the darkness to where the guys were running the pneumatic drill, and it was mind-boggling. Towards the end, you could sometimes hear the nuns singing from a convent on the other side of the caverns.

    • #6
  7. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @nandapanjandrum

    Dear friend…Tears are flowing; your words are instruments of experience and blessing…I suppose I feel this way when I enter church; the doorway to Heaven, and have the Eucharist placed on my tongue. Overwhelming, familiar, and strengthening all at once…Thank you both! Baruch Hashem and Shalom!

    • #7
  8. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Podkayne of Israel (View Comment):
    Years and years ago, my husband was part of the construction crew that tunnelled through the rock to connect both ends of the Kotel tunnel. Back then, not many people were aware of the fact that the Wall continued on beyond the famous excavated section. Sometimes, I used to come down to visit him at work, crouching along the damp tunnel in the darkness to where the guys were running the pneumatic drill, and it was mind-boggling. Towards the end, you could sometimes hear the nuns singing from a convent on the other side of the caverns.

    That’s amazing! Can anyone answer how or when the Temple Institute can start building the Third Temple? I realize the Muslim issue, but is it supported generally?

    • #8
  9. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Though He slay me , yet will I cling to Him…

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    That’s amazing! Can anyone answer how or when the Temple Institute can start building the Third Temple? I realize the Muslim issue, but is it supported generally?

    When the Messiah shows up. Truly, that is what the Torah says.

    • #10
  11. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    That’s amazing! Can anyone answer how or when the Temple Institute can start building the Third Temple? I realize the Muslim issue, but is it supported generally?

    When the Messiah shows up. Truly, that is what the Torah says.

    Causality is a bit of an open question (which comes first?).

    There are also many rabbinical opinions that some key functions can restart now – such as the Pesach Offering.

    • #11
  12. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Is there a tour of the excavation at the Wall? I saw an article a couple of years ago (I think at Biblical Archaeology Review) that said they have exposed some foundation stones that are below the Herodian stones. These would be Nehemiah’s stones.

    • #12
  13. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    MJBubba (View Comment):
    Is there a tour of the excavation at the Wall? I saw an article a couple of years ago (I think at Biblical Archaeology Review) that said they have exposed some foundation stones that are below the Herodian stones. These would be Nehemiah’s stones.

    Yes. The Tunnel Tours . There are some online versions.

    • #13
  14. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Exodus 25:

    31 “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. 32 And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; 33 three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, 35 and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. 36 Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. 37 You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. 38 Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. 39 It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent[e] of pure gold. 40 And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    iWe (View Comment):
    Causality is a bit of an open question (which comes first?).

    There are also many rabbinical opinions that some key functions can restart now – such as the Pesach Offering.

    I had no idea! The thought that some believe that the reconstruction of the Temple might start before Meshiach arrives is amazing. Suggestions for sources?

    • #15
  16. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    The thought that some believe that the reconstruction of the Temple might start before Meshiach arrives is amazing. Suggestions for sources?

    Here is a start, and another from the same site. And a more scholarly-sourced one.

    But there is a lot of inertia between 70 CE and the present.

    • #16
  17. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @nandapanjandrum

    Wow, prayer in action for the return; now *there’s* something we can do together! :-)

    • #17
  18. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    That was beautiful.

    Thank you, iWe.

    • #18
  19. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    iWe (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    The thought that some believe that the reconstruction of the Temple might start before Meshiach arrives is amazing. Suggestions for sources?

    Here is a start, and another from the same site. And a more scholarly-sourced one.

    But there is a lot of inertia between 70 CE and the present.

    It would seem to me that any thought of undertaking to rebuild the Temple would require the appearance of a Prophet who would give a Word from G_d, and name the persons that G_d inspired to carry out the work.

    Exodus 31:

    The Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, 4 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. 6 And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, 8 the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9 and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the finely worked garments,[a] the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”

    • #19
  20. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    I think the Temple was marked for destruction even before Jesus came. It was doomed when Herod went about enlarging and embellishing it. There was no Prophet saying that the LORD wanted more room for moneylenders. It was done to make the Temple look grand by Roman standards and to make more booth space that could be rented out in the Temple Courts.

    Then Jesus fulfilled the need for the Temple.

    • #20
  21. B. Hugh Mann Inactive
    B. Hugh Mann
    @BHughMann

    It is a blessing to read the account of father and son in spiritual unity. Very moving.

    • #21
  22. Patrick McClure Coolidge
    Patrick McClure
    @Patrickb63

    Beautiful testimony to G_d’s greatness

    • #22
  23. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    @iWe I saw this this morning just after I finished my devotion time. In light of the other changes occurring at the Temple Mount, it broke my heart to read your story. Congratulations, my friend.

    • #23
  24. JcTPatriot Inactive
    JcTPatriot
    @JcTPatriot

    I did not understand a lot, maybe most, of what you said, but I am still stunned into silence by what I did understand. Thank you.

    • #24
  25. George Townsend Inactive
    George Townsend
    @GeorgeTownsend

    I also found this very moving. I am not Jewish. And I don’t even attend church, considering Organized Religion something that just never spoke to me. But I am deeply believing. And I often search for God’s purpose for my life.

    I fell in-Love once with a lady who was Jewish. But we never talked about Judaism. I was not even sure if she was believing. I thing she was. But, as I say, we never talked of it. After a while, for several reasons, my feelings changed.

    Looking back, I think one of the reasons I fell for her was that she was Jewish. I have always felt sort of a connection with the Jewish people. Perhaps because I have such an abhorrence of suffering, and such hatred for those who make others suffer. I don’t think this is wrong, because I believe that Bible says that God hates evil.

    Anyhow, thanks again for the quite moving piece. Even when I don’t understand the beliefs or actions of others, I do so admire the beliefs of the devout. What a beautiful world this would be if we had more people who spent their lives trying to live up to what they believe God asks of them.

    • #25
  26. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Thank you all so much for the kind words. They mean so very much to me.

    • #26
  27. Isaac Smith Member
    Isaac Smith
    @

    Words fail me. Thank you. Shalom.

    • #27
  28. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    iWe: We next went off on the Tunnel Tours. If you get to Jerusalem, I recommend them highly. It is worth it if only to gain an understanding of how many layers of civilization have lived in that place, all the terraforming and quarrying and building that occurred to make the Temple Mount a flat structure. Hundreds of years are measured in vertical feet, thousands of years sometimes in tens of meters. Civilization after civilization. Ancient Jewish ritual baths (so far, 38 have been discovered on one side of the Wall) that are identical in dimensions and purpose to the mikvaot in use today. This City is us.

    I have heard it said that the Temple, in its final form under Herod, was overall a larger building project than the great pyramid at Giza – more stone quarried and a far far larger structure.

    • #28

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