June 16, 2024
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Messages of Israel: Musings Of an Israeli Tour Guide

Three times a day, for almost 2000 years, we have faced Yerushalayim and prayed “והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך” (Shemoneh Esrei). We implore Hashem to return the service to our holy Beit Hamikdash. I’m sure many of you have visited the Kotel Hamaaravi, the remaining Western Wall which surrounds Har Habayit. Nearby, in the Davidson Center, excavations have revealed some very exciting finds from the time of the Second Beit Hamikdash. These excavations shed light on life during the time of the Beit HaMikdash, remnants of its destruction and hope for ultimate redemption.

When Israel re-unified Yerushalayim in 1967, excavations near Robinson’s Arch discovered an interesting looking alcove with the following Hebrew letters on it:

לבית התקיעה להב

This find is dated to the time of the Second Beit Hamikdash. The letters provide a very good hint as to the use of this structure. The Gemara describes that three shofar blasts were sounded in Yerushalayim to announce the advent of Shabbos and then another three shofar blasts were sounded at its conclusion (Shabbos 114B). In modern Yerushalayim, we’ve discovered the structure into which the kohen would ascend, at the southwest corner of the Har Habayit, in order to announce the beginning of the holy Shabbos to the residents of Yerushalayim. The complete engraving must have read either לבית התקיעה להבדיל בין קודש לחול, to the house of blowing to distinguish between sacred and mundane, or לבית התקיעה להכריז, to the house of blowing to announce [the advent of Shabbos]. It’s incredible! The words of the Gemara come to life in our modern archeological finds!

Right nearby, a fascinating small square stone was discovered among the street’s pavement from 2000 years ago. It seems to have two small holes in it. What could it have been used for?

The Mishna describes a similar structure near the outer altar in the Beit Hamikdash itself.

משנה מדות ג:ג

לְמַטָּה בָרִצְפָה בְּאוֹתָהּ הַקֶּרֶן, מָקוֹם הָיָה שָׁם אַמָּה עַל אַמָּה, וְטַבְלָא שֶׁל שַׁיִשׁ, וְטַבַּעַת הָיְתָה קְבוּעָה בָהּ, שֶׁבּוֹ יוֹרְדִין לַשִּׁית וּמְנַקִּין אוֹתוֹ …..

On the floor beneath, at that corner, there was a place, a cubit square, on which was a marble slab with a ring fixed in it, and through this they used to go down to the pit to clean it out. (Sefaria.org)

The Mishna is describing an ancient manhole.  A handle would be tied onto those two holes and then it would be lifted. Someone could then enter and clean the sewage underneath. Although this is not in the place described by the Mishna, it is quite understandable that there would be manholes in various locations. What’s even more incredible though is that this manhole measures exactly an amah by an amah (at least according to one opinion) which are exactly the measurements described in the Mishna! The Torah She’bal Peh comes to life in these excavations!

Unfortunately, though, the glorious days of the Beit Hamikdash did not last forever. The 10th Roman Legion destroyed the Second Beit Hamikdash on the Ninth of Av in the year 70 CE. They burned down the Beit Hamikdash and tossed over the stones that remained. At the Davidson Center, a pile of stones was unearthed. A discerning eye can see the charred, burnt marks. The remnants of Churban Beit Hamikdash are now visible, in our times.

Although history books state that the Romans destroyed the Beit Hamikdash, we know otherwise. The Gemara Yuma teaches that the Second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed due to baseless hatred (9A). These stones serve as a reminder to the responsibility that we have in our generation. If the Beit Hamikdash is not rebuilt in our generation, we are also to blame for its destruction. (Yerushalmi 1;1). These stones speak to us and behoove us to improve our interpersonal relationships and show love and warmth to our fellow Jews. Sometimes this may mean accepting those different from us but sometimes it could also mean showing more love and care to those closest to us, to our spouses, children and parents. These fallen stones, recently uncovered in our times, are crying out with a message. Let’s tune in, hear it and improve our ahavat Yisrael!

Amidst all of this devastation, we are also witness to a prophetic message of hope. Near these fallen stones, etched into the stones of the Western Wall is the beginning of the following verse from Yeshayahu:

ישעיהו ס”ו: י”ד

וּרְאִיתֶם֙ וְשָׂ֣שׂ לִבְּכֶ֔ם וְעַצְמוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם כַּדֶּ֣שֶׁא תִפְרַ֑חְנָה וְנוֹדְעָ֤ה יַד־יְהֹוָה֙ אֶת־עֲבָדָ֔יו וְזָעַ֖ם אֶת־אֹיְבָֽיו׃

You shall see and your heart shall rejoice,

Your limbs shall flourish like grass.

The power of the Lord shall be revealed

In behalf of His servants;

But He shall rage against His foes.

( www.Sefaria.org )

Who carved these words of anticipation into the Western Wall?

It is not known for sure but archeologist Eilat Mazar believes this message of hope was written by a Jew in the Middle Ages, more specifically during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Julian the Apostate. Although the Byzantine Christians persecuted Jews and officially did not allow them to enter Yerushalayim, Jews saw hope during the reign of Julian the Apostate who was pagan and termed “apostate” by the church. During his reign there were even rumors of his granting the Jews permission to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash.

It is these words of hope that we are witness to today in contemporary Yerushalayim. May they be fulfilled speedily in our time and may we soon be privileged to walk these very streets as we ascend to the Beit Hamikdash!


Hava Preil is an enthusiastic licensed Israeli tour guide. She grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and holds a master’s in Judaic Studies. Hava has developed and taught accredited courses in Tanach and Jewish Ethics for Naaleh/Woodmont College and Cybersem. She currently lives in Givat Ze’ev, Israel with her family. Hava can be reached at IL:054-844-1579, USA: 845-391-0438 or at [email protected].


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