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“Be exceedingly happy, O daughter of Sion; Cry out, O daughter of Jerusalem. See! your king (Messiah) will come to you. He is just and victorious; humble, and riding on an ass and a colt, the offspring of [one of] the donkeys (Zechariah 9:9)”
“And you shall give it to Eleazar the kohen, and he will take it out of the camp (via the eastern gate) and shoot him down in his presence (Number 19:3)”
“The goat will thus carry away all their sins in a steep country, and he will send the goat (via the eastern gate) in the desert (Leviticus 16:22)”
The Gate of Mercy, sealed since 1541. According to Jewish tradition, this is the gate through which the Mashiach (Messiah) will pass!
Photo credit: Nikodem Nijaki – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unporte
Today we explore one of the most important (though rarely visited) sites in the country, the Gate of Mercy, which is now sealed but leads to the top of the Temple Mount. What makes this site so important is not only its history, but also its future! This is because (according to Jewish tradition) this is where the Moshiach (Messiah) will enter to redeem Israel.
The gate is on the eastern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem, which is by far the oldest wall. While most of the current walls surrounding the Old City date from the Ottomans in the 16th century, the visible lower parts of the wall date from the Hasmonean period (c. 100 BCE) and the upper parts date from the time of Herod (c. 20 BCE).
During the time of King Solomon (who built the First Temple), an eastern gate existed that led to the Temple Mount. It is thought to be close to the current gate, although it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 422 BCE (some historians say 586 BCE) along with the Holy Temple. In 371 BCE, the Jews again returned to Israel and rebuilt the Temple.
In 355 BCE, after a wave of Jewish immigration back to Israel, Nehemiah rebuilt the city walls of Jerusalem. This included the construction of the Shushan (Eastern) Gate, named after the capital of Persia, the empire that ruled Israel at that time. The eastern door even had a drawing of Shushan on it. According to Jewish sources, this was ordered by Persia so that people would remember that they were living under Persian rule and not to rebel. The gate led directly to the Temple Mount, and through it the High Priest led the red heifer, an extremely rare cow, to the Mount of Olives. Due to Torah specifications of what constitutes a red cow, only 9 have ever existed and by the time of Messiah a 10th is to be found. The red heifer was slaughtered and her remains burned. The animal’s ashes would then be mixed with special water and then sprinkled on someone who had been impure (for example near a corpse) in order to purify them. This was an extremely important procedure, otherwise anyone who had ever been to a cemetery (or had been to a place where someone had died while there) could not enter the Temple until it is purified (see Numbers 19 for more on the Red Heifer).
It was also through this door on Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the year except for Shabbat) that the High Priest sent the goat who had on him the bundle that read “Towards Azazel”. . The goat would be taken to Azazel, a mountain in the Judean Desert, and killed. This was a very important commandment and an essential aspect of the Yom Kippur atonement service (see Leviticus 16).
The Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. In the 7th century (some say the end of the Byzantine Empire, while others say the beginning of the Islamic period) a new gate (Mercy Gate) was built above the ruins of Shushan Gate
According to Jewish tradition, Mashiach will enter the city through the Gate of Mercy and rebuild the Temple. In 1541, the Ottoman Turks who had just completed the construction of the (current) city walls of Jerusalem, sealed the gate in order to prevent the Messiah from entering and redeeming Israel. (The fact that they invested so many resources in this clearly indicates that they also believed in the coming of the Messiah). A Muslim cemetery was also placed there to prevent Elijah the Prophet, a Kohen (priest) from announcing the Messiah (according to Torah law, a priest cannot enter a cemetery). Ironically, unbeknownst to the Turkish government at the time, a priest can enter a non-Jewish cemetery, so this cemetery does not prevent anything!
On your next trip to Israel, a view of the Gate of Mercy can definitely enhance your travel experience. May the Holy Temple be rebuilt quickly in our day!
(All images used have been authorized by the author or are in the public domain)
Please visit the author’s site about tourist guides in Israel: https://guidedtoursofisrael.com