What is the Western Wall?

2043825-sunrise-over-jerusalem-old-cityJerusalem’s “Western Wall”, a.k.a. the “Wailing Wall” or “Kotel”, is arguably the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people, where millions of Jews and non-Jews come every year from around the world to pray and to place notes for G-d in between its ancient stones. Why?

The Kotel is one of the last standing remnants of the Jewish Holy Temple, also known as “Mount Moriah,” and later the “Temple Mount”, an area that has demonstrated throughout history its unique nature as a transcendental meeting point with the Divine. While today the Temple may be in ruins, its magnetic spiritual power remains.

According to the Biblical text, we are first introduced to Mount Moriah with the story of the Binding of Isaac. “Take your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as an offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you” (Genesis 22:2). Abraham called the place “the mountain where G-d is seen” (Genesis 22:14).

The Biblical story of “Jacob’s Dream” is identified with Mount Moriah as well, where Jacob recognized this as the place where Heaven and Earth meet. Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of G-d and that is the gateway to heaven” (Genesis 28:10-18).

It was only fitting then that many years later the Jewish Temple would be built on this holy ground, officially representing the continuation of the special relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. However, when the people wavered from the values that this level of relationship required, the Divine Presence ceased to reveal itself. The result was after standing for 410 years, the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in the year 3338 (422 B.C.E.). The Jews went into exile for 70 years. After they repented and returned to the Land, they immediately started building the Second Temple in the year 3408 (352 B.C.E.).

Around the first century, King Herod made significant additions to this structure, widening the area of the Temple Mount and building four support walls around it. The Western Wall is the western support wall built during this expansion of the Temple Mount Plaza. In A.D. 70, after the Roman armies once again destroyed the Temple, all that remained of the Temple Mount were these support walls. Throughout the generations since the Temple’s destruction, the Western Wall was the closest accessible remnant to the Temple Mount.

Interestingly, the exposed, outdoor section of the Western Wall is just a small part of the whole Western Wall. The part of the Western Wall that is currently seen at the Prayer Plaza is 187 feet long, while the entire length is actually 1,600 feet long! The remainder of the Western Wall continues underground beneath the streets and houses of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Today, the Western Wall is at the same time a symbol of spiritual exile, as well as one of hope and longing for the future redemption of Israel.