No one can forget the heart-piercing cry of joy back in 1967, when Commander Motta Gur’s voice was crackling over the radio: “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
After two thousand years of longing, searching, exile and pain, at the pinnacle of fear and destruction and fighting, “It was turned around” (Esther 9:1) – we finally, finally had come home.
In a rare opportunity, we got to speak to Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, who served in the 55th Parachute Unit when they won back the Temple Mount, and who later founded The Temple Institute.
Rabbi Ariel recalls that when the Six Day War broke out, and Israel’s enemies poured across her borders with trained men and heavy artillery, it was a foregone conclusion that the Jews of Israel were going to be massacred.
“Tel Aviv was in flames. Haifa was in flames. Jerusalem was in flames.”
Three battalions had broken through the border of the Jordanians, which cut through Jerusalem.
“We saw fire, and smoke, and from all sides gunfire was heard. Suddenly, the bad news began to arrive: Friends. This one was killed, that one was killed…I saw with my own eyes, to our great sorrow, some of the artillery struck fellow soldiers. I had to gather up legs, arms, to bring them for burial. It was not easy…They paid with their lives so that we could arrive there.”
Pain etched deep lines into the Rabbi’s face, as he remembered the fallen. “The sole commandment in the Bible for which we are commanded to put ourselves in danger, and even to be killed for it, is the commandment of conquering the land of Israel,” he commented softly.
Yet out of the ashes of destruction rose the hope of redemption, and his attitude waxes transcendent as he recalls how they entered the Old City. Eyes shining, he relates:
“Shelling began on the Old City…Lots of smoke and fire. From the place where I was standing, I saw the whole Temple Mount. After 2000 years, this is happening! Before my very eyes.
Within a few minutes, I saw above the Dome of the Rock, the flag of Israel, waving. Truly, it is the days of the Messiah. Behold, our situation was not one of a holocaust, but one of redemption! It gave me hope.”
Within minutes of the Israeli flag flying free over the Dome of the Rock, as bullets and artillery still whistled through the air, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, stepped out onto the sacred Mountain carrying a Torah scroll.
“There [on the Temple Mount] exists the Divine Presence of the Holy One, Blessed Be He! Who could give this up? Who could think differently?”
Only hours after Rabbi Goren blew the shofar on the Mount, joy turned to dust and ashes: former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan ordered the proud flag removed from the mosque, and gave the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf.
Rabbi Ariel had only one response – giving away any part of the Holy Land is not an option:
“We are not the owners of the Land of Israel. G-d is the master of this house, and we need to steward this land of His as He sees fit. Let no one think that he is master here.”
A true servant of G-d, Rabbi Ariel set out to settle, build, and plant in the Holy Land as soon as he finished his military service. Rabbi Ariel moved south to the fledgling Yamit community, in the distant reaches of the Sinai. There, he was elected chief rabbi of the blossoming town.
“Each Jew is obligated to do two things: first, to come and settle in the land of Israel, to build her up, and to strengthen her. Second, to build the Temple and bring the Divine Presence to rest, in Jerusalem, in the Holy Temple, and thus the land of Israel will come to a state of redemption. That is how redemption is brought to the world! Those who uphold the commandments of the Bible, who build up the land and the Temple- this is the Redemption!”
Unfortunately, not everyone is as clear about this mission as is Rabbi Ariel. In 1982, Israel gave away the Sinai region to Egypt, and Yamit was emptied and destroyed by the military. A lesser man might have been crushed along with everything he had built, but not Rabbi Ariel. He felt that G-d was calling him to the next stage of his mission. He returned to Jerusalem, and focused all his efforts on rebuilding the Third and final Temple of Jerusalem.
To this end, he founded the Temple Institute in 1987. The Institute studies and revives the ancient practices of the service in the Temple, with the end goal of building the third Holy Temple as soon as possible.
“Of course, the Redemption hinges upon the Temple. So said Rabbi Kook, may his memory be a blessing: ‘We do not have a plan for a State without a Temple, nor a Temple without a State.’ For us, the Bible, the State and the Temple are one entity. There is no way to divide it.”
The Temple Institute has already crafted many of the vessels needed for service in the Holy Temple, such as, a table for the showbreads, and the laver. They have even bred a candidate for the red heifer, needed to achieve complete purity for the nation of Israel:
“Without blemish, in which there is no defect, and on which no yoke has been laid.” (Numbers 19:2)
The red heifer candidate must be 3 years old to serve, so they are raising her carefully until she reaches maturity. There have only been nine such heifers recorded in history, and Jewish tradition views the tenth one as a clear sign of the days of the Messiah. With joy in his voice, Rabbi Ariel proclaimed:
“Therefore, we pray, and we try to prepare for the Redemption! To prepare everything as needed, so we’ll be ready to enter the place of the Temple in holiness and purity, and to reinstate the service and the priesthood, speedily in our days!”
This year, tens of thousands will raise the Blue and White over Jerusalem on Sunday, June 2, Jerusalem Day. That flag is a symbol of national prayer, a prayer of two thousand years, of returning to the holiest city. We will celebrate our miraculous victory in 1967 and never forget the importance of Jerusalem.
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.” (Psalms 137:5)
Already, Jews are freely returning to Israel and building up the Holy Land. Already, we are reviving our living Bible; something that hasn’t been done since the destruction of the Second Temple. As we strive toward a state of perfect truth, the sense of manifest destiny is overwhelming. May we merit to see the completion of the Redemption, speedily in our times, as the prophet Zechariah says,
“And they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem…in the day that the foundation of the house of the LORD of hosts was laid, even the Temple, that it might be built.” (Zechariah 8:8-9)