It is Erev Shavuot. Tonight we begin the celebration of Shavuot commemorating the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai (Mt. Sinai). Shavuot is one of the Shalosh Regalim (pilgrimage festivals), along with Pesach and Sukkot, when we are commanded to go to Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) in Jerusalem to bring sacrifices to HaShem. When the 2nd Beit HaMikdash was destroyed 2000 years ago the sacrifical service that had been the central part of Jewish worship since Har Sinai came to an end. While the Temples were still standing as many as 2 million Jews would ascend to Jerusalem to celebrate Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot by bringing sacrifices to the Beit HaMikdash.
Today, we no longer have the Beit HaMikdash and the sacrificial service has been replaced by Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv (the three daily prayer services). However, many rabbinic authorities still believe that it is a positive commandment to ascend Har HaBayait. Unfortunately, the Dome of the Rock stands in place of the Beit HaMikdash today, but Har HaBayit is no less holy. Since the 6 Day War 40+ years ago, Jews have once again been allowed to visit Har HaBayit (although access is limited to small windows of time each day). In order to ascend the Temple Mount one must ritually purify himself (or herself) by immersing in a kosher mikve (ritual bath).
This morning a small group of us from Neve Daniel rose very early, went to shul and immersed in the mikve in preparation to ascend Har HaBayit. We had previously had a class to learn the various (ritual) laws of visiting Har HaBayait. While tourists and non-Jews can go up in large numbers, ironically, the Israeli police limit the number of religious Jews who can visit at any one time. We were lucky enough to be granted entry, but not before being briefed by the Israeli police officer that we were not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount and that if any one of our group (we had joined another group from another yishuv) of 51 were caught praying or 'making any trouble' the entire group would be forcibly removed immediately. Prior to entering Har HaBayit through a gate above the women's section of the Western Wall, we paused to recite Tehillim (Psalms) aloud and then proceeded through the gate escorted by one Israeli police officer and one (unarmed) escort in the employ of the Muslim Wakf (the Muslim religious authority which oversees Muslim holy sites); our escorts joined us to ensure that we would not be tempted to actually pray at Jewish people's holiest site. We followed the prescribed route (there are certain areas of the Temple Mount that only the Cohen Gadol (the High Priest) is allowed to enter so we were careful to follow the religiously accepted route). Our trip around the Temple Mount lasted about an hour with occasional stops to explain certain points or to just stop and think (Gd forbid that we would actually dare to PRAY).
Our trip came to a close as we exited through an enormous gate into the Arab shouk (market) where our group immediately broke into celebratory song and danced in circles singing of our wish to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash (much to the chagrin of the passing Arabs). After 6 or 8 minutes of singing, we came together to hear some parting thoughts from Rav Yitzchak Levy who had been leading the group.
The feeling of participating in this mitzvah (commandment) that our great-grandparents could only have dreamed of longingly was truly awe inspiring. May the 3rd Beit HaMikdash be rebuilt speedily and in our time!
For more information on Beit HaMikdash and Har HaBayit you can visit http://templeinstitute.org/.