I looked forward to my experience in Jerusalem…with much anticipation! Jerusalem is very spread out, and not what I expected. All the buildings are made of limestone, so there is a very unique look about the place, with everything being a cream colour. I felt excitement as we drew closer to Jerusalem – the bus driver played ‘Jerusalem’, and for me, it was spine tingling. I was very excited to experience this place!
After getting our room and organising ourselves, we walked a brisk 1.2 km to the wailing wall to get there before Sabbath.
It was so busy, walking through these tiny stone cobbled streets with shops on both sides. Everyone was saying “Shabbat Shalom” as we walked past. Some Jews walked very fast, almost looking like they were late for something. In the air was a sense of the importance of the evening, and everyone was on a mission to get to the Wailing Wall before the sun went down – before Sabbath.
The outfits were impressive. Ladies and children were dressed up, and men had long black coats and black hats…some with fur on them. Others just had the little cap on. Others had cream coloured cloaks. Orthodox Jews had “Payot” – long curled sidelocks of hair. This dates back to very literal interpretation of the Old Testament where it talks about not shaving the corners of ones head, or shaving beards (Lev 19:27). It was very interesting to see the different outfits – now I understand it signifies which Rabbi, or tradition they follow or identify with.
The Jaffa gate is an L shape, and was made that way originally to slow armies down. We went through the Jaffa gate on our way to the Western Wailing Wall. The Wailing Wall is the remnants of a retaining outer wall, when the second temple ( King Herod the Great) was expanded. The wall dates to the 2nd C BC, however more recent layers have been added. Jews come here to lament the destruction of the temple, and to pray for the return of the Messiah to rebuild it. They also come to the wall to open and close Sabbath.
Just a side note – as we passed the large wall of the old ‘City of David’, there was one part where we could still see bullet holes from numerous battles.
At the wailing wall, we separated as there was an area for the men on the left and an area for the women on the right. There was such an air of celebration as people were welcoming the Sabbath. There was dancing, singing, chanting, reading of scripture and people praying.
I managed to get to the wall, touch it and pray. At the wall, in all the cracks in the stones, there are rolled up pieces of paper. Prayers that people have left tucked in the wall. It brought me to tears and I didn’t have a lot to pray about other than overwhelming thanks and praise to Jesus who is my Saviour and King. It would have been a very different prayer to the Jewish woman next to me. They are praying for the Messiah to come and rebuild the temple, I was praying for the Messiah who HAS come, and has in His death and resurrection fulfilled everything about the temple. I felt the emotion of being in this holy city – once buzzing with the news of Jesus.
The walk back to the hotel was more leisurely, which was good to be able to look around and really soak in the atmosphere. The shops were shut, for it was Sabbath, and some of the streets were very empty as people headed home to their own houses to observe Sabbath. After a late tea, it was great to be in bed. So very tired after a huge day, but feeling very blessed!
The following evening, we returned to the Wailing Wall to experience the stark contrast from opening Sabbath to closing Sabbath. There were not as many people, and the feeling in the air was one of despondency, mourning for the loss of the Sabbath hours. There was no singing or dancing, and a lot of the forecourt to the Wailing Wall was setup as tutorial spaces where older men would teach the children in chanting the Torah. There was reciting of scripture, and people at the wall rocking, repeating scripture.
What a difference to Friday evening. It was such an obvious difference. After spending time at the Wailing Wall on Saturday evening, we walked back towards the hotel and we noticed that the shops were open, the streets were full of people, there were buskers everywhere…quite the opposite to Friday night.
It occurred to me that in our Western society, we have lost some of the excitement and value of bringing in the Sabbath. We could take that further in saying that in our modern society we have lost the sacredness of a relationship with Jesus. He unfortunately gets lost in our lives full of social media, demands and materialism. Often we see our day of worship as a chore, and we would rather it be done so we can ‘get on with life’. Jesus would rather have it the other way around – He IS our life. I was struck with the notion that our relationship with God needs to be somewhere in between our slack western way, and the rigid rule-based way of the Old Testament. We need to view our worship as our source of life, value it, cherish it because our relationship with Jesus is what counts. That is what will get us through this life. That is what will matter once sin and Satan are destroyed, and this earth made new. We honour the Sabbath not only because it is in the 10 commandments, and Jesus observed the Sabbath, but because it is sacred time for us to consider Jesus, the giver of our life. Our abundant life.