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Two Sacred Spaces And Two Loving Embracers: The Jerusalem Temple And Its Older Brother: The Ka’ba – OpEd


With the coming excitement of Hajj next month, Jews and Muslims should look together at some of the connections between the two holy sites of monotheistic pilgrimage.

In honor of Hajj, I offer this narration that was transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew throughout many centuries and finally written down in several versions in the mid 19th century.

Two brothers who had inherited land from their father, divided the land in half so each one could farm his own section. One brother’s land was mostly on a hillside; the other brother’s land was mostly in a valley on the other side of the hill.

Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married.

One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meager. This was at the beginning of a long term draught that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where grain did not grow and all the springs dried up.

The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought. “My brother has a wife and four children to feed and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce.”

So that night the younger brother went to his silo, gathered a large bundle of wheat, and climbed the hill that separated the two farms and over to his brother’s farm. He left his wheat in his brother’s silo, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself.

Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought. “In my old age my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother will probably have no children. He should at least sell more grain from the fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.”

So that night, the older brother also gathered a large bundle of wheat, climbed the hill, left it in his brother’s silo, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself.

The next morning, the younger brother was surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged. “I must not have taken as much wheat as I thought,” he said. “Tonight I’ll be sure to take more.” That same morning, the older brother standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts.

After night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother’s barn. The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. “How can I be mistaken?” each one thought. “There’s the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I’ll make no mistake – I’ll take two large sacks.”

The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart through the fields and up the hill to his brother’s barn.

At the top of the hill, with only a little light from a new moon, each brother noticed a figure in the distance. When the two brothers recognized the form of the other brother and the load he was pulling behind, they both realized what had happened.

Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced.

Christians and Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Mecca.

I believe they are both right and God willing, someday everyone may see both cities and their sanctuaries as a pair of lungs; that are central to humanity’s spiritual inspiration by, and connection to, the One God of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.

Only God can make a geographical place into a holy space. Thus God’s prophets later knew that brotherly love and concern for each other had made this space into two holy places, as a pair of spiritual lungs for two holy sanctuaries on which the descendants of these two brothers will each build and rebuild a holy House for this world’s spiritual revival.

As the Qur’an states: “‘Believers, be steadfast in the cause of God and bear witness with justice. Do not let your enmity for others turn you away from justice. Deal justly; that is nearer to being God-fearing.” (5:8)

When all those, both near and far, who revere their house as a standard for the world, and share it in love with everyone else who reveres it, then God will help them do, as Abraham will request: “Make this a land of Peace, and provide its people with the produce of of the land”. (Qur’an 2:126).

May the inspiration of this ancient tale, transmitted orally for so many centuries in both Arabic and Hebrew, help Christians, Jews and Muslims overcome the many hate filled actions occurring in today’s world. As the Qur’an states: “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend…” (41:34)

May the one pair of lungs provide the spiritual energy all humans need to live according to God’s peace: “Say: the Holy Spirit has brought the Revelation from your Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe, and as guidance and glad tidings to Muslims.” (Qur’an 16:102)

For almost all non-Orthodox Jews; Jerusalem was and is very important as the capital of the Jewish state of Israel. However non-Orthodox Jews do not miss, nor do they seek to restore, the ancient Temple built by Prophet Solomon in the City of David.

For Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews the Holy Temple is far more important than the secular city of Jerusalem; just as for Muslims the Holy Ka’ba is more important than the city of Makkah, but all ultra-Orthodox Jews also believe that the Holy Temple will only be rebuilt by God, and not by humans.

The name “Jerusalem” occurs 660 times in the Hebrew Bible. But Jerusalem existed as a pagan city for centuries before David conquered it, a decade or two after 1,000 BCE and it became known as the City of David.

The Jerusalem Temple (Beit HaMikdosh) and the Ka’ba, the House of God (Baitullah) in Mecca are the two most well-known sites for monotheistic pilgrimage in the world.

The Islamic Hajj to the Ka’ba in Makka, and the Jewish Hajj to the Temple in Jerusalem, have been alternate swings of a single sacred pendulum connecting earthly humans to one monotheistic Divine source in the heavens.

The Ka’ba was the original site of the Islamic Hajj. Destroyed in the days of Noah, it was later rebuilt by Abraham and his son Ishmael. After several centuries it was desecrated by later generations of idol worshipers.

During the centuries while the Ka’ba was desecrated, Prophet Solomon built a Temple in Jerusalem for Jewish Haj on the site where Abraham bound his son Isaac as an offering to God.

Four centuries later the Temple of Solomon was destroyed in 587 BCE by the Babylonians. Then the Temple was rebuilt with the support of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, and lasted for almost six centuries.

As Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE – c. 50 CE) states; Jewish pilgrims came to Jerusalem  from the ends of the earth, and from all the compass points.” Non-Jews could also enter the Jerusalem Temple to pray.

But with the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the pilgrimage Hajj aspect of the week-long harvest festival of Hag Sukkot, began a gradual decline in the spiritual consciousness of the Jewish People.

The first time Hag/Hajj is mentioned in the Torah is in that famous scene when Prophets: “Moses and Aaron told Pharaoh; ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go into the wilderness, that they may hold a feast (Hag/Hajj) for me.'” [Exodus 5:1]

The verb translators render as “feast” is yakhuggū (יחגו) which is cognate to the Arabic “yuhajjū” (يُحَجّوا) so the verse should be rendered in this context as: “And afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh; ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a Hajj/pilgrimage feast for me in the wilderness.'”

But that one-time Hajj never occurred because Pharaoh refused to free the Jewish People thus incurring Divine wrath.

The normative annual two Jewish Hajj week-long pilgrimages was the liberation celebration of Haj Passover; and especially the gratitude celebration of the harvest festival of Haj Sukkot. The Torah declares: “Celebrate Hajj Sukkot for seven days after you have harvested the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.

“Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns…Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place He will choose: at the Hajj of Matzah (Passover), the Hajj of Weeks, and the Hajj of Sukkot. (Deuteronomy 16:13-16)

Hajj Sukkot was so important during the centuries when Solomon’s Temple stood that the holy week of Sukkot was often called simply “the Hajj” because of the very large numbers of Jews who came up to the Temple in Jerusalem. Hajj Passover is also celebrated as a week long pilgrimage.

Although Prophet Solomon’s wealth built the Jerusalem Temple, it is his father, Prophet David’s musical songs and chants, that made the services very special. The Psalms/Zabur of David (Qur’an 4:163, 17:55, 21:105) often refer to the Jewish worshiper’s love of the Jerusalem Temple, first as a sacred tent with Sakina in the desert, and later as the courtyards of God’s house on the holy mountain of Zion.

For Muslims, the Temple of Solomon that was built on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in Biblical times; was in fact a part of their own religious history. Indeed, a Hadith declares that the original pre-Abrahamic northern sanctuary was built only 40 years after the original pre-Abrahamic Ka’ba.

Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari said: “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! Which mosque was built first?’ He said: ‘Al-Masjid Al-Haram (in Makkah).’ I said: ‘Then which?’ He said: ‘then Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa (in Jerusalem).’ I said: ‘How many years between them?’ He said: ‘Forty years, but the whole earth is a mosque for you, so pray wherever you are when the time for prayer comes.'” (Grade: Sahih (Darussalam): Sunan Ibn Majah 753: Book 4, Hadith 19 English: Vol. 1, Book 4, Hadith 753)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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