Western Wall 88 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
'It is never open on Shabbat, but perhaps it will open for you," my friends eyes twinkled as she said those words to me. She then suggested that I journey alone further from the women's synagogue buried in the caverns adjacent to the Western Wall by going to the left, down a flight of stairs and through additional tunnels to pray by the "Holy of Holies." In a state of awe and amazement, I trembled and cried as I walked through the dimly lit winding paths and down the stairs to this most sacred site.
Soon I found myself approaching a very simple place, resembling a cave. There were no special or elaborate ornaments, only three plastic chairs and two women dressed totally in white, sitting enraptured in prayer and meditation, facing a blank wall. I claimed the remaining chair as mine and was transported to the realm of the holy, where I felt totally loved and accepted as I was.
I can't recall all that transpired within me during the hours I stood and sat there in a state of awe. It felt like wisdom and deep spiritual insight on many subjects from marriage, to reincarnation, to Jewish history, to what will be in the future was being downloaded directly into my soul. I felt myself in the presence of the most loving, exquisite and royal feminine holy energy.
Whenever I returned to the cave, there was always a group of women huddled there, reading psalms, meditating, weeping gently. One time when I was standing in the third row from the wall of the cave closest to the Holy of Holies, I was reflecting on the lack of a loving man in my life and began to cry. Soon I found myself lovingly and gently moved to stand closer to the actual wall of the cave so I could rest myself upon it. From the core of my being, I weeped alongside the other women.
Every time I go to the cave, I always see women crying. I can't imagine another place in the world where women of all ages and backgrounds are not ashamed or embarrassed to cry in front of strangers.
DURING ONE of my early visits to the holy cave, I became aware of the sound of horns and trumpets blasting. I listened closely and was guided to a stairwell, very close to the Holy of Holies cave. I learned then that there was a sunrise minyan which has been going on for many years.
I was intrigued enough to make myself rise by 4:30 a.m. There are so many reasons why I should not be comfortable attending this minyan. Not only does does it take place early, I have to stand in a stairwell. I cannot even see the men, for they are upstairs. I can't even see the Torah. I am a bit of a feminist. I enjoy singing in prayer services, yet there is little or no singing here. I am not as observant as the women who frequent this minyan, yet none of this bothers me. I am actually grateful to the men for allowing me to be present in the stairwell. I even appreciate the total separation as it allows me and the women to go deeply into the prayer without the concern of being observed.
This minyan is to me like a rocket ship of prayer that is traveling through the dimensions of time and space to the infinite holiness of the Shechina. I love the meditative quality of the service. The leader of the service will often pause for a long time with a single word of prayer. The congregants may be doing complex meditations (kavanaot), but I am happy to just be with that word as fully as I can be. Sometimes I feel no need to pray myself. I close my eyes and only have to open my heart to receive the sweet and divine nectar and vibrations produced from the prayers of these men. Here in this stairwell, I feel myself standing in the center of the universe.
ONE TIME, one of the male congregants in the upstairs minyan pointed out the man who had led the davening that morning. I thanked the leader profusely, for I had received so much from his davening. He immediately came over, put his hands over my head and blessed me. I was thrilled, for I felt as if I had been blessed by the high priest. The gesture made me feel welcome and confirmed to me that I was in the right place.
Most of the times when the men exit through the stairs where the women are standing, I avert my eyes because I know that some of them might feel uncomfortable being seen. Other times, they drape themselves with their prayer shawls so as to not look upon the women. Having shared this awesome experience of holiness, making eye contact seems too intimate. In years past, I might have been offended by the lack of acknowledgement of my personhood. Now, I am simply grateful to each of them, not only for what I have received spiritually for myself but for what these prayers offer to the Jewish people and to the world.
EACH MORNING I see some of the same women. There is a lovely elderly Ethiopian woman who is often present, who comes late. She does not use a prayer book, but she moves her arms around as she bends her body. I want to hug her but I refrain.
There is another beautiful woman who always looks like someone out of a fashion magazine for religious women, sporting a form-fitted skirt with a lovely matching sweater, beautiful jewelry, a colorful head covering and makeup applied appropriately. She prays so deeply from her heart that I hear her gently weeping. After the morning service, she, like many of the other women participating in the minyan, stay longer in the cave to read psalms.
I have so far only exchanged gentle smiles with the women. Neither the cave nor the stairwell is a place for conversation. Yet I feel myself acknowledged and cared for by them ; I feel we are close even though we have not exchanged a word.
The cave has given me a little taste of the holiness of the Temple, where the Shechina - the divine feminine - was revealed to the Jewish people. Now we have only a wall of a cave. It is true that Her wall is moldy. She has been hidden for thousands of years, yet She is still so beautiful, present and loving. Everyday, I stand enveloped in Her presence; I feel Her and receive Her blessing; I am filled with visions that when the Holy Temple will be restored, She will be revealed and there will be true peace.
The writer is the founder and director of Kabbalah of the Heart and Beit Miriam. A teacher of Jewish meditation for over 25 years, she is the author of Kabbalah Month by Month, Everyday Kabbalah and New Age Judaism.