Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Priestly Blessing

For the second day of Chol Hamoed Pesach (the intermediary days of the week-long Passover festival,) Steven and family invited me to join them on a trip to the Yemenite Village, a newly reclaimed Jewish area in East Jerusalem. We met downtown next to the old city.


Behind Steven is the number six bus with a photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a map of Israel, and the slogan "A Palestinian State is Forbidden for Israel." (It sounds better in Hebrew.) Now here's my question: the map of Israel shown includes Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank,) and even Gaza, which Israel evacuated a year and a half ago, but the map does not include the Golan Heights! And the Rebbe even penned a detailed argument as to why the Golan Heights is essential to Israel's security and must never be surrendered. It must be a misprint.

Walking along the outside of the Old City of Jerusalem, the walls are plastered with enormous blow-ups of ancient Passover Haggadahs (the Haggadah being the book we read on the night of Passover, describing the exodus.)
Massive blow-ups of ancient illuminated Haggadahs on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Yours truly, leaning on the Jaffa Gate

We walked back out the Zion Gate, and continued along the old city walls towards the kick-off point for the tour, which was next to the Dung Gate, at the entrance to Ir David (the City of David.) But when we got there, we still had half an hour before the beginning of the tour, so I walked to the Western Wall, a few minutes away.

An Ethiopian Kess (the equivalent of a Rabbi for the Ethiopian Jews) and a Chassid.

Thousands of visitors poured through the old city gates. Security was tight.

Walking through the gate, I passed through the metal detector and rounded the corner.

Security entrance, with women guards to search the women and male guards to search the men, in the interest of preserving modesty.

Just as I came around, the Priestly blessing began. To see a video, click here.

The priestly blessing was originally given by the Cohanim (the High Priests, modern descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses) during the temple service, a service which ended with the destruction of the temple 1,939 years ago. Since we are not able to ascend until the temple is rebuilt, the priestly blessing was included in our daily prayers, and is recited on major holidays throughout the world. Because of the enhanced holiness of the Land of Israel, the blessing is recited daily here. The priestly blessing is considered on such a high level of holiness that one is not permitted to even look at the Cohen as he delivers it.

The priestly blessing:

May the Lord bless you and keep you - יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
May the Lord shine His face upon you - יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
May the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and grant you peace - יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

I've been to the Kotel (Western Wall) more times than I can count. I've seen people weeping as their emotions overwhelm them, or dancing with joy. But the Kotel has never had any such effect on me. I go there, say hello to Hashem (God,) pray hard, and go on my way. But this time it was different.

Cohanim line up at the wall, as throngs of Jewish pilgrims of every persuasion crowd in to hear the blessing, broadcast over loudspeakers.

Crowds press against the railing

A Closer-Up Shot

Five rows of Cohanim lined up against the Kotel

This was probably the most exciting thing I've ever seen at the Kotel. First, I was struck by the open miracle: tens of thousands of Jews were crowding around, and not one of them was speaking. No opinions, no arguments, nothing. One could feel a connection and unity of purpose so thick in the air it seemed to make all of life's travails seem trivial. It was as if, for an instant, the temple were standing again.

But, back to the struggle. The UN and the rest of the international community says that the Kotel is a West Bank settlement. Regardless of its holiness, all Jews must be banned. The Muslims claim that this is where Mohammed tied up his horse, and so in order for there to be peace it must be returned to its status prior to 1967 as Muslim property, when it was used as a public urinal.

But there's another group pushing in the opposite direction. It's time to get myself to Kfar Teimani, the Yemenite Village.

Heading out through the dung gate, back to the City of David for my tour.

Stay tuned...

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