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Moroccan Mirage

Aharon Granevitch-Granot

They were hiking through the SaharaDesertlooking for the graves of tzaddikim, when all of a sudden, the huge edifice rose up in front of them. A hallucination? The Third Beis HaMikdash? Actually, it’s a massive fiberglass creation for an upcoming film, but the magnificent reconstruction of theHolyTemple is enough to make every Jewish heart long for the real thing

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

morrocoWhen Shachar Zaguri came face to face with the Beis HaMikdash in the middle of theSaharaDesert, he thought he was seeing a mirage.

“All of a sudden, this edifice appeared before me. It was just like in the pictures. I couldn’t help but think that in another moment, the white-clad Kohein Gadol, bedecked in the efod and choshen, would emerge from the entrance to the Kodesh HaKadoshim, the crowd accompanying him with the words from the Yom Kippur davening  — ‘Mah nehedar hayah kohein gadol’ — in unbridled excitement. Could it be real?”

Zaguri, a Breslover chassid from Tzfas and musician by profession, who also works as a tour guide for Jews who wish to travel to the graves of tzaddikim inMorocco, will never forget the feeling he had when he saw the structure, built outside Ouarzazate –Morocco’s film capital – for the set of an upcoming movie. The temple is not real, of course, but at some level it has stirred the imagination and the longing in the hearts of every Jew who has made the pilgrimage to see it.

“Our group was going for two events. It was the hilula of Rabbi Yitzchak Abuchatzeira — the son of the Abir Yaakov and uncle of the Baba Sali —  who is buried in the village of Tullal in the Sahara Desert, and the hilula of Rabbi Yichye ben Baruch, who is buried in a remote village near Ouarzazate. You have to understand,” Shachar adds, “that the area there is stunning and pristine. We’re talking about the bottom of theAtlas Mountains, on the edge of the desert, and there are entire regions there that have remained untouched since the creation of the world. This has become a favorite spot for filmmaking companies.”

One member of Zaguri’s tour group was Naftali Tzemach. Before the trip, Tzemach told Shachar Zaguri that really, his first reason for joining the expedition was to see what he heard was a replica of the Beis HaMikdash. Was it possible that the Moroccan leader in the industry, Atlas Films, or some other company had actually invested millions in such a project?

“Now, I consider myself a pretty worldly guy, but I had never heard about this ‘Beis HaMikdash,’ and I didn’t believe it existed,” Shachar says. “I had been in the area dozens of times, and I had never heard about any such structure. I thought it was impossible. But, I was still willing to take a quick look for the site. Late at night, we arrived at Ouarzazate,” Shachar Zaguri remembers. “We were scheduled to hike up a certain mountain the next morning, and our time was limited. But Naftali came over to me again and said, ‘Here we are, and what about your promise?’

 “We got up early to daven vasikin and be on our way. We were planning to scale a mountain that would take us 4000 meters above sea level, on a path that hardly deserved to be called that.

“But Naftali was insistent, and anyway, how big is Ouarzazate? If there indeed was a massive Beis HaMikdash in the area, we would surely stumble across it. So we started walking, hoping we were going in the right direction. I was losing patience — this wasn’t on our itinerary and we were losing precious time. I told myself that if we didn’t find it within five minutes, we would give up. After all, we had to continue on our way.”

Then they saw it, standing in the heart of the desert. “We saw a building from a distance. It looked small from where we were standing, but as we got closer, the structure seemed to grow larger and larger, looming in front of us. We felt as if we were walking in a dream. We might have stumbled onto a movie set, but everything we’d ever learned about the Beis HaMikdash was all suddenly here, massive, in three dimensions, right in front of our eyes. We were incredibly excited. It may be trite to say that our hearts stopped beating, but that is exactly how we felt. Intellectually we knew it wasn’t real, but it was so real to us, we felt like we were in a time capsule.” 


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