One of the questions that I’ve been asked most often since we returned from Israel is “Did you go to the Wailing Wall?” Yes, we did and it was quite an adventure, but before I tell that story, there are some misconceptions to clear up. First of all, while in Israel, we never heard it referred to as the “Wailing” Wall. That term isn’t used by the Jews. It is the Western Wall. Where the term, Wailing Wall, came from is uncertain, but it probably referred to the weeping of the Jews over the destruction of their temple.
I had always understood that the so-called Wailing Wall was the only remaining piece of the ancient temple and for that reason it had been set aside as a holy place of prayer. Not so! It is actually a relatively small segment of a much longer retaining wall that was originally built as part of the expansion of the second Jewish temple by Herod the Great. Although other parts of the retaining walls remain, this particular segment is closest to the location of the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the temple where God promised that His presence would reside. For that reason, it is considered by the Jews to be the holiest place to pray. (Leviticus 16:2)
While the visible portion of the Western Wall is approximately 60 metres in length, the majority of it has spent centuries hidden underground. It is only in recent years that excavation of the Western Wall Tunnels has allowed access to a further 485 metres extending beneath the Old City of Jerusalem. Entrance to the tunnels is limited to tour groups and must be booked months in advance.
This is where our story begins. Our group had a 5:45 pm appointment on January 28th. We left our hotel with plenty of time to spare, but as we neared our destination we found ourselves caught in traffic that was completely backed up along a narrow, crowded street. It wasn’t going anywhere! As minutes ticked by, it was obvious that we would miss our appointment if we didn’t do something, but what do you do with a tour bus caught in such a jam? Our trusty guide, Shimon, jumped off the bus and gave directions while Jimmy, our amazing driver, turned the bus around in a space that I probably couldn’t have turned our SUV! When we finally arrived by an alternate route, we discovered why the traffic was so heavy. The entrance plaza was filled with hundreds of people there for an Israeli Defense Forces swearing in ceremony during which new recruits receive their weapon and a Jewish Bible.
During our exploration of the tunnels we saw the biggest stone in the Western Wall. With a length of 13.6 metres, a height of 3 metres and an estimated width of between 3.5 and 4.5 metres, it is estimated to weigh approximately 570 to 600 tons! How it was moved into place without the use of modern machinery is a mystery. We also walked a section of the Herodian road which ran alongside the Temple Mount, stepping on worn stones that our Saviour undoubtably walked upon.
By the time we emerged from the tunnels, the swearing in ceremony was over and we wound our way through the jubilant crowd who were busy congratulating and taking pictures of their young soldiers. The segment of the wall designated for prayer is separated into a section for men and one for women. The seven women in our group formed a human chain as we made our way through the crowd so that we wouldn’t become separated from one another! We each spent a few minutes praying at the wall before rejoining the guys and heading back to our hotel.
Some in our group said that they felt the presence of God in a special way at the wall. I don’t want to question anyone else’s experience, but personally, I didn’t feel any closer to Him there than I do in many other places. I am so thankful that we serve a God who is with us wherever we are and that we don’t need a temple to experience His presence!
Jesus said, “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.” Matthew 12:6