You are presently standing at the entrance to the Temple Mount, the site of the Holy Temple. According to Jewish tradition, this is the holiest place on earth.
Through these gates, festival pilgrims used to enter the Temple to appear before G-d, and it is here that the Jewish People will come in the future, together with all those who desire to approach the Divine Presence. These are the gates of G-d’s everlasting Temple.
According to tradition, Adam, the first man, was created from the earth at this very site. It was here that our forefather Abraham brought his son Isaac to the altar (see Genesis 22, II Chronicles 3:1). The holiness of this site was revealed to King David, who brought an offering here to G-d; G-d responded with fire from heaven. King David then bought the site from the Jebusites, as it is written (II Samuel 24:24):
Ever since then, the Temple Mount has been the eternal possession of the Jewish People (see II Samuel 24; I Chronicles 21).
Here, in the year 832 BCE, King Solomon built the Holy Temple as a center for worshipping G-d, for jurisprudence and for prayer. Solomon declared as follows (I Kings 8:38,41-43):
This house is the place that G-d chose for His Divine Presence to rest and become manifest, as it says, “For G-d has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation” (Psalms 132:13).
The First Temple stood for four hundred and ten years, until it was destroyed by the Babylonians. Even during the seventy years of the Babylonian exile, the Jewish People retained their faith and devotion to the Holy Temple. Sitting by the rivers of Babylon they swore, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning” (Psalms 137:5). And so indeed, with the end of the Divinely decreed seventy-year exile, the Jewish People returned to the land of Israel and Jerusalem and built the Temple a second time.
About two hundred years after the construction of the Second Temple, the Holy Land was overtaken by the Greeks. They took control of the Temple and of the priests serving there. They profaned the Holy of Holies the innermost chamber of the Temple and placed an idol in the courtyard of G-d’s house. The conquerors’ attempt to prevent the observance of Torah law and stop the Temple service greatly agitated the people of Israel. Led by the High Priest Mattathais and his son Judah Maccabee, the Hasmonean family spearheaded a rebellion against the Hellenistic empire.
The victory of the Hasmoneans over the Greeks, after which the Temple was purified and the candelabrum miraculously lit for eight days, was commemorated as the holiday of Chanukah. To this day, Jews celebrate Chanukah by lighting candles in their homes for eight days.
Another two hundred years later, the land was once again conquered, this time by the Romans, whose oppressive regime likewise provoked a national rebellion. When this rebellion failed, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, bringing to an end a period of nine hundred years during which the Temple Mount was the living heart of the service of the G-d. With the Temple’s destruction, over nineteen hundred years ago, the Jewish people were once more exiled from the land of Israel and dispersed amongst all the nations.
Since then, the Holy Land has changed hands many times, yet throughout the generations, a small number of Jews always succeeded in keeping a foothold here. The day upon which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, the Ninth Day of the Jewish month of Av, was marked as a special day of mourning. Even today, Jews the world over observe this day by fasting for a full twenty-four hours, sitting on the earth, weeping, and reciting the Book of Lamentations, Jeremiah’s dirge over the Temple’s destruction, which contains the following words (Lamentations 5:1-2,16-18):
This profound dirge concludes with a prayer of hope:
The prophets of Israel, who envisioned the future redemption of Israel with the coming of the Messiah, declared that the Holy Temple would once more be rebuilt. These Divine prophesies instilled in the nation the yearning, faith and trust that Israel is destined to return to its former glory. Faith in redemption, for Israel and for the entire world, is indeed one of the most important marks of Jewish culture, passing like a burning torch from generation to generation. Even now, in the period following the destruction of the Temple, a Jew, regardless of where he stands on earth in prayer, turns towards the land of Israel and the Temple site, beseeching G-d to speedily redeem us and reconstruct the Holy Temple.
The day is not far off when G-d will accept our prayers and tears. In recent generations we have merited to witness the Divine providence of the beginning of the return of our people to our homeland and to Jerusalem, the Holy City. So too will we soon merit witnessing the coming of the Messiah and the reconstruction of the Holy Temple, through which the Divine Presence will reside in our midst forever.
The Messiah will bring the word of G-d to all the nations of earth. The Divine light and truth inherent in his teachings will at once enlighten all of mankind and bring about universal peace and blessing. Then, all nations will ascend to the Holy Temple to serve the G-d of Israel, and behold of His Divine splendor. As foretold by the prophet Isaiah (2:2-4):
From these words it is apparent that the seed of universal peace finds its fertile soil in the aspiration of all the nations of earth to worship the G-d of Israel in His Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
According to the law of the Torah, which addresses both Jews and non-Jews, the Temple’s holiness, which stems from G-d’s eternal presence at this site, is not nullified, even when the Temple lies in ruin and foreign powers control the Temple Mount. This holiness thus obligates us to relate to the Temple Mount with supreme reverence, even today.
Jews possess special laws that permit them to enter the Temple Mount gates only after undergoing a specific process of purification.
In order to enter further inside, to the area called the “rampart,” further purification, which is unavailable to us today, is required.
Non-Jews, as well, are allowed to enter the Temple Mount up to the rampart, and for them no purification process is necessary.
As one penetrates further inside, greater and greater strictures apply. To the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple, none but the High Priest, the holiest person of all mankind, is allowed entrance. Yet even he may enter there only if the Temple is standing, and only on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the holiest day of the year. At that site stood the Ark of the Covenant, in which were contained the tablets that Moses received from G-d at Mount Sinai.
As stated above, we earnestly look forward to the coming of the Messiah and the return of the Divine Presence in all its majesty to this wondrous place, with the rebuilding of the Temple.
It goes without saying that this site is not to be related to merely as a historic site where we encounter vestiges of the past, but as a place where the present draws on the past, and which constitutes the preparation for an even greater future. The holiness of the site lives in this place and in our hearts like whispering embers conceal their flame.