In a sense, the double meaning to the rock is part of the problem--and right now the horror--of Jerusalem. Meaning is stacked atop meaning. Every site has multiple names and multiple meanings, representing mutually exclusive claims. The Temple Mount itself means the future to Jews, the present to Muslims, and the past to Christians.
To Jews it is traditionally the site of the Third Temple--a place where all the peoples of the world will gather in messianic times to pray to one God. How far we are from that now. To Muslims it is the site of two great mosques, the religious center for Palestinian Muslims, and inevitably, a political symbol of their claims on the soil of Jerusalem, claims that cannot be argued away by rhetoric or the strong emotion on the Jewish side. Finally, to Christians the Temple Mount represents the triumph of Christianity over Judaism, the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus that not one stone will stand on another in that site.
When I visited the site the first time, I looked in awe at the rock in the well of souls beneath the dome. I visualized the dramatic moment in the Torah portion we read on Rosh Hashanah, the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, when God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac--which Abraham diligently set about doing--only to call off the order at the last moment.
But I wasn't allowed up onto the Temple Mount the second time I went, nine years later. I was met at the entrance by an Israeli guard who asked to see what I had in my backpack. And I had something very dangerous in that backpack: a tallis, or prayer shawl.
I had forgotten I was carrying it. I'd been davening (praying) earlier that morning, and it never occurred to me that a prayer shawl was a dangerous item. But because some extremist Jewish groups had used prayer as a form of assertion of religious rights on the Temple Mount, Israeli security was zealous and turned back anyone carrying religious materiel .
That's why I was incredulous when I heard that the government of Israel permitted Ariel Sharon to go up on the Temple Mount. If the prayer shawl in my backpack was a provocation, what was the person of General Sharon, hated by the Palestinians for his role in the invasion of Lebanon? The world needs to understand that the action of the Israeli government in this case was hugely irresponsible and provocative.
Now the world sees the result: A Palestinian father, Jamal al-Durrah, and his 12-year-old son, Muhammad, huddling against a wall in Gaza, caught in deadly crossfire. The death of a young boy in the company of his father, while Jews around the world are in synagogue reading about the attempted sacrifice of Isaac. As my friend Arthur Waskow noted in a message, an angel rescued Isaac at the last minute. Where, he asks, was the angel to rescue Muhammad?
In Jewish mystical thought, a good angel is created every time we act on a good intention. Now, in this time of repentance and reflection, we Jews need to create many angels. There is no question that the blood of the boy Muhammad calls up from the ground, and, if we ignore that call, we ourselves have turned from human beings into stones.
We need to rebuke the government of Israel for its foolishness in allowing this situation to develop in the first place. We need to say, as the late Yitzhak Rabin said, "Enough--enough bloodshed." We cannot tolerate the sacrifice of any more Isaacs or Ishmaels for the sake of rocks and stones. It's clear that in this time of repentance, we must express our sorrow to the Palestinian people for the death of this boy, and we must vow to create a peace so that no more boys on either side have to die.