A Wail of a Wall - Which of the West?
Dear Rabbi,Hillel Gershuni from Jerusalem, Israel wrote:
Can you tell me the historical and emotional significance of the Western wall of the Temple Mount to the people of today? Why do they go, what do they get from visiting? Can anyone go? Thank you for your time.
When I pray at the Kotel (Western Wall), to what direction should I pray? Straight towards the Kotel? That is not the direction of the Kodesh Hakadoshim (Holy of Holies), but all the people I've seen there do it. Or should I not face straight towards the wall, but rather towards the Dome of the Rock, which is the place of the Kodesh Hakadoshim, but maybe it's forbidden to pray in this direction?
Dear Hillel Gershuni and Tammy,
The Holy Temple was the place where G-d's Presence was manifest among the Jewish People in ancient Israel. In the Holy Temple itself, the Divine Presence was most manifest in the western part. The ark containing the "two tablets" was in the west, and the western lamp of the menorah candelabra burned miraculously for centuries.
Even though the Temple was destroyed, the Western Wall remains until this day. This was foretold by the midrash which states "the Western Wall will never be destroyed, because the Divine Presence is manifest in the west."
But the history of this site goes back much further than the Temple. Our sources state that this was the place where Avraham offered his son Yitzchak, and it was here that Yaakov envisioned the ladder. It was from this place that G-d took the earth from which He fashioned Adam, and it is the center of the universe, the point from which the universe was created and from which it expanded.
Therefore, the Western Wall has a powerful spiritual and emotional pull on all humanity. People from all over the world are drawn there to interface with their souls' deepest yearnings.
Besides its spiritual significance, the Temple Mount is also of historical and archeological interest. Most of the western and southern walls of the Temple Mount date back to Herod's renovation of the Temple. There is a possibility that the lowest levels of these walls are from King Solomon's Temple. The northern wall dates back to Herod and the eastern wall is from the Second Temple of Nechemia, with some additions by the Hasmonean dynasty and some renovations by Herod.
Some of the stones are incredibly heavy, the transporting of which would have been extremely difficult. One of the stones is said to weigh approximately 628 tons! Archeological evidence indicates that the enormous stones were transported by rolling them on logs that were placed under the stones.
It is actually possible to see the Western Wall on the Internet! Just go to: http://www.virtual.co.il and click on "KotelKam".
Regarding which way to face when praying at the Western Wall, the Talmud states that one who is in Jerusalem should face the Sanctuary, and one who is in the Sanctuary should face the Kodesh Hakadoshim, the Holy of Holies. When you are standing at the Western Wall, even though you are close, you are not actually in the place of the Sanctuary. Therefore you need not face the Kodesh Hakodosim. You should face towards the wall, envisioning yourself standing in front of the Kodesh Hakadoshim.
- Bamidbar Rabbah 11
- Berachot 30a
- Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 94:1