This weekend marks the beginning of a three-week mourning period, during which the Jewish people reflect on the destruction in biblical times of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Through fasting, repentance, and prayer, the people of Israel beseech God to rebuild the Holy Temple and thus return His divine presence to the Temple Mount.
In preparation for the “Three Weeks,” as it is called, I visited the Jerusalem Archeological Park, where I was able to see and touch actual rubble from the destruction of the Second Temple. I was fortunate to pray at the foot of what was once the southern Temple Mount entrance, where worshipers brought the sacrifices into the Holy Temple during the three major holidays of Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkot.
As I made my way into the park, I could hear tour groups being led in various languages. A phrase from Isaiah 56 — “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations” — ran through my mind as I struck up a conversation with a Swedish Catholic tour guide named Peter. My new friend, who I met along the striking stone-slab staircase that leads to the Hulda gate that served as the main Temple entranceway, has been in Israel numerous times leading Swedish-speaking tours to the Holy Land.
As we discussed the ancient Temple and the customary practices that went along with it, Peter admitted, “Every time I come back to Israel there are new archeological finds, a new spirit, and a totally new and refreshing experience.”
It is hard to imagine what it was like to visit Jerusalem during the Temple period, when the priests offered daily sacrifices, the Levites played the Temple instruments, and a pillar of smoke rose from the inner chamber as high up as the eye could see. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was always a magnet for those searching for God, and, even now, people from all around the world come to pray in what is left of the Temple’s outer walls.
Walking through the park, I tried to let my imagination lead me back thousands of years. I closed my eyes and imagined the people who once walked on these very stones, the thousands who came to offer sacrifices and to experience a revelation of God with a clarity and connectivity which has been lost to the world along with the Temple structure.
“If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill,” is a promise the Jewish people made to God as they were forcefully dragged into exile. And, for thousands of years, not a day has passed without the Jewish people praying for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple.
As I stood along the southern Temple wall with the gigantic stone stairs towering over me, I prayed with my friend Peter. We asked God to reveal His will to the whole world, and to materialize His promise, “My house will be a house of prayer for all nations.” We long for that day when all of humanity, in unison, offers praise to the God of Israel in His city Jerusalem.
Before leaving the park, Peter asked me, “So who do you think should control the Temple Mount? Which religion do you think it belongs to?” I looked Peter in the eye and said, “It belongs to God, and only Him.”