kotel western wall praying great 512 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
The Western Wall, like the Jewish nation, has both visible and hidden dimensions. It seems like a public and open place, but in reality – as anyone who has touched its stones will attest – it is a place of intimacy: intimacy between a Jew and his past, intimacy between man and his God. This intimacy is created during the wondrous moment when a man leans his head on the cool stones of the Western Wall and feels in the depths of his heart that he has returned home.
The Western Wall has been this way for thousands of years, waiting for the few Jews who reached it on arduous roads from all corners of the globe to stand in the shadow of its stones in prayer and mourning for the destruction of the Temple. This is how millions of Jews from around the world imagined the Wall, impressing the image in their hearts, drawing it on the covers of their holy arks, stitching it onto their prayer shawls, and etching it onto the eastern walls of their synagogues.
Thirteen years ago, when I was appointed rabbi of the Western Wall, I was shocked to discover the data describing visitors to the Wall – more than 60 percent of Israeli youth had never visited. Only one generation after its miraculous liberation, it had become a forgotten relic. Together with my colleagues in the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, and with the encouragement of the government, we began to return the Jewish nation to the Western Wall through tours, guiding, accompanying bar mitzva families, joint projects with the ministries of Education and Defense, and more. Thank God, today more than eight million visitors come annually, a rise of 400% in only the past five years.
I HAVE been following the swell of visitors over the past few years with great joy. But alongside the joy there is also deep sorrow about the din of dispute that clouds the Western Wall Plaza. There are those who wish to describe the Jewish nation as torn and divided among streams. From the window of my office overlooking the Western Wall, I see one nation in which that which unites us is 10 times greater than that which divides us. We are a nation with one past, one present, and one future. We are a nation with a rich and glorious heritage, a nation immersed with a sense of mission for tikkun olam
– world improvement. In front of the ancient stones of the Western Wall, disagreements are dwarfed and the Jewish nation is revealed in all its glory.
To me, the Wall is like a home where siblings grew up who later chose different paths in life. Outside the house, each lives his or her life; but when they enter their childhood home, they each understand that they have to remove their cloak of individuality at the entrance. Here, inside the home, is the time to focus on what unites and is common to all the brothers and sisters.
At the Western Wall, the home of every Jew, no one is completely satisfied – neither the zealots of Jerusalem nor the fighters for equality; neither those wishing to conduct Torah lessons on the plaza, nor those wishing to conduct a women’s minyan
. All realize it is best to leave disputes outside the Western Wall Plaza, shaded by the ancient Wall, entering it modestly and with a sense of partnership. All are equal in front of the Wall – the simple Jew and the senior politician, the traditional and the innovator – all are beloved children of the divine presence. All their prayers are desired by the One who cares about the stirrings of their hearts.
Therefore, the Western Wall is not a place for ceremonies or demonstrations, proclamations or tongue-lashings. The Wall is the place where all of us, as individuals, join our nation and heritage. This is a place where the parts create the whole, without mediation of groups or tribes, but as links of a chain.
I beseech you to let the Western Wall be what it has always been – a
place of deep intimacy and traditional prayer, as the custom of the
worshipers here has been throughout the generations. Let not the
Western Wall become a place where the gaps and differences among Jews
become magnified and emphasized.
For “we are all brethren.”
The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.