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The Western Wall and "Western" Civilization

Harav Yehuda Amital
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Those of us who experienced the reunification of Yerushalayim on 28 Iyyar, 5727 (7 June, 1967) find it difficult to describe.  It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I was at home; I had been exempted from fighting because I was above forty.  I tried to help the elderly, to make myself useful during those difficult days, days of trembling and fear.  


Suddenly, on 28 Iyyar, we heard the Kol Yisrael radio station: they were playing "Yerushalayim shel Zahav," "Jerusalem of Gold," in the middle of the war.  A little while later, not at the regular time, there was a newsflash: "Jerusalem has been liberated!"  The announcer, Moshe Choval, who was not religious, began to read Tehillim 122, "I rejoiced when they said to me: 'Let us go to God’s house.'"  It stunned me that they were reading this psalm on the radio! 


I do not have the words to describe that experience.  I do remember that Mincha that day was one of my greatest prayers ever.  A neighbor of mine, a Torah scholar, told me: "This is a revealed miracle!"  I do not know if it was a revealed miracle or a hidden miracle, but I know how strongly I felt it.


The ideas and emotions of that day must inform my thoughts about the Israeli government's economic plan.  This plan, espousing austerity for the sake of economic growth, stems from an ideology of globalization.  Market forces, privatization, individualism — these are its buzzwords.  What lies at the foundation of this ideology?


I am sure you have seen at recent weddings that there are some people who do not dance in the circle, but dance on their own.  I saw a wedding where there were 100 boys, each one dancing on his own.  It is aesthetically pleasing, but what is going on here?  How can a celebration such as this devolve into individuals executing fancy dance steps?  The catchphrase is "Al titarev," "Don't get involved."  Why dance in an unnatural circle, hands clasped, arms linked?  Let nature run its course, let each individual express himself, and you will see how well it comes out. 


This is the ideology of globalization: "Al titarev, let market forces run their course, don't talk about social justice.  The rich will get richer and the poor will disappear; let them die of starvation, and whoever is left will be wealthy."


This is the philosophy of privatization: why should the state get involved in the personal lives of its citizens?  In the Knesset, we have 120 of the crטme de la crטme, the best of our nation, and what they say is the law!  Why should the Supreme Court get involved when we have these elected sages to who make decisions?  Why would you interfere?  We need economic growth. 


Even the "spirituality" of our time gives its imprimatur to this attitude.  These are the philosophies that backpackers bring back from India: they do not speak of tzedek (justice) at all!  "People should die quietly and not make noise."  They do not speak about tzedek and uprightness, because everything is about finding yourself, individualism.  This is enlightenment?  This lies behind the idolatry that goes around today: "Go with nature; don't get involved." 


How nice is it for everyone to do whatever he wants!  On the Internet and cable television, everyone watches whatever he wants, whenever he wants.  Freedom, privatization — behind all this is the notion: "Let nature run its course - it's so beautiful!  Why would you interfere?"  Perhaps it is natural, but all idolatry comes from nature.  This is New Age philosophy, dressed up in a suit as free-market capitalism.  "If everyone has freedom, if everyone does what we wants, then you will see," says the finance minister, "there will be growth.  Give the wealthy bank manager a little more, and he will work harder."


What does that have to do with the Kotel ha-Ma'aravi (Western Wall), the ancient remnant of our Temple site, liberated on 28 Iyyar?  Let us think back to Avraham Avinu, the first man to be commanded regarding circumcision, who almost sacrifices his son upon the Temple Mount, Mount Moriyya.  Circumcision is a perfection of the natural; in the Midrash, Rabbi Akiva tells Turnus Rufus (Tanchuma Tazria 7) that nature has negative aspects, such as wild animals, poisonous fruits.  Human beings must perfect nature, and this is not blasphemy, but the highest fulfillment of our God-given mission. 


I wish to develop this concept further.  In Moreh Ha-Nevukhim (III:45), the Rambam cites a gemara from Tractate Yoma (which we do not have in our version), wherein Avraham Avinu picks the ma'arav (west) of Mount Moriyya for the future site of the Holy of Holies, because "the Divine Presence is in the ma'arav" (Bava Batra 25a-b).  This is because the Sun, the ultimate symbol of nature, rises in the east, and its worship was then popular.  Avraham Avinu chooses to turn to the west, turning his back on the sun, which is antithetical to nature.  Yechezkel (8:16) decries the Jews who turn their backs to the Temple, turning to the east, bowing down to the Sun.  They defy the memory of their ancestor Avraham, the innovator of a new approach to the world. 


We see that letting nature follow its course is not a new idea; it is the oldest form of turning away from God.  The refrain is: "Return to nature; let people do what they want."  Now, psychology speaks this way, arguing that shame is bad, an invention of religion; instead, we should stick with nature.  This is the ideology of the new economic plan; remove regulations and benefits, and the economy will naturally grow.  If the poor complain, the cognoscenti murmur, "They don't know that there will be growth; they will benefit eventually…"


As we stand here, almost 4,000 years after Avraham Avinu, the urgency of his message has not dimmed. We must take our cue from him, and look to the ma'arav, turning our backs on the cruelty and indifference of the natural world, embracing the obligation and involvement of the world of faith.  That is the universal message we still get from the Kotel ha-Ma'aravi. 


May God grant us the merit to rebuild the Temple, so His Presence may once again rest in the Holy of Holies — in the ma'arav.


(This sicha was delivered on Yom Yerushalayim, 5763 [2003].)


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