One mount, two religions, three proposals: Elhanan Reiner

The controversy over the Temple Mount is again threatening to ignite the region. Three Israeli and Jewish viewpoints suggest a different perspective on the holiness of the site and the meaning of sovereignty over it. Elhanan Reiner explains the idea behind aliyah l’regel

 

The controversy over the Temple Mount is again threatening to ignite the region. Three Israeli and Jewish viewpoints suggest a different perspective on the holiness of the site and the meaning of sovereignty over it. Professor Israel Knohl relates to the partial fulfillment of Yeshayahu’s vision; Professor Elhanan Reiner explains the idea behind aliyah l’regel; and Professor Menachem Fisch explains that the holiness of place is not connected to ownership.  
 
By Elhanan Reiner
 
The oleh l’regel is not able to reach his destination – there will always remain one step that he has not taken. He will never take the last step, following which there are no more. Even when he has almost reached his goal and can see the Holy of Holies before his eyes, he sees it from a distance and cannot approach. This is one of the foundations of aliyah l’regel. “The Lord hath said that He would dwell in the thick darkness” (Chronicles II, 6:1). Therefore, when a man faces the Holy, he has essentially arrived, despite or because of the last step that he cannot take.
 
This has been a basic tenet of the religious view of the Temple Mount since the Destruction. The Western Wall is a powerful metonymy for the concept of being on the threshold, which internalizes the idea of approaching but not quite reaching the Holy. The metonymy of walls that enclose the Holy but are essentially open constitute the actual threshold of the House of God. It is similar to God putting Moses on Mount Nebo: “There you will not go” (Deuteronomy 32:52).
 
You can see from there what you cannot see from here. This is “from Mount Scopus and closer” (Talmud Berachot 61b). And this is the circuit of the gates which the oleh l’regel followed around the Temple. Not to the straight line leading to the site; and he has no choice but to stop. Instead, he circles it again and again and the holy place is always before him.
 
The power of the site’s presence is not manifested in reaching it but in approaching it. This is essentially the idea on which the Temple is based: olim l’regel gather there and in that way sanctify it; by approaching it, they experience its presence, but the Holy of Holies, the heart of their objective, they do not reach. The state of not quite arriving, of stopping on the threshold, is what makes the aliyah l’regel to the Temple into a journey that is so important and meaningful. This seemingly Diaspora attitude accurately expresses the idea of the Temple. Only the Cohen Hagadol enters the Holy of Holies once a year.
 
The Temple concept is based on the journey to the Temple, a journey which is not meant to end at its destination. It is the eternal, unfinished journey. The desire to destroy the Holy, not knowing the boundaries of holiness, is to desecrate it. It is not a religious desire to reach the holy place. It is empty nationalism that sanctifies the foothold. It demands the foothold but does not realize that the price of achieving it is its secularization.

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