Everyone who had ever been to the Western Wall assured me that the experience would be profound and life altering. For some reason, everyone just expected that I, too, would have such an experience and I expected just as much. My fanciful imagination had conjured up a Mahler symphony and several choirs singing in full voice to accompany my personal epiphany. I wanted the Shechinah to descend upon me and transfigure me into a truly spiritual being. Sadly, these things did not happen. The Wall seemed to have other experiences for me different from the ones I anticipated.
Perhaps I was just too excited to see the Western Wall and to touch it, or perhaps I was just too tired. Or perhaps I was just too needy to feel the awe of the place and just too aware of the need to feel it. A person can lose the moment by focusing on the need and not on the experience itself. A focus on the need is a focus on the self. I think now that there were too many expectations, mine and others, not enough suspension of the self, and certainly not enough preparation for such a moment. I did hear something akin to music, but it was the soft murmuring cadences of other Jewish men who had also come there to pray and perhaps to also experience something of the holy. I was not absorbed by the sacredness of the spot, though I was fully aware of the awesomeness of the place. In the spiritual center of the Universe, I could not find my spiritual center. I had not prepared myself.
So, I think that my experience at the Wall, by not fulfilling my expectations, was to make me more aware of the work I had to do to make my soul become more spiritually connected. I should have known that in such sacred places and at such sacred moments, one had to be able to free oneself from ego and earthly concerns and give oneself up to whatever was waiting. Such a spiritual connection takes work. I had not done the work, and it did not occur to me that I had withheld myself from the work that needed to be done.
Releasing oneself into the moment, especially a sacred moment, is not an easy thing for me to do. Perhaps it is easy for truly pious people or people who do not endlessly struggle with theology, but I am neither. To enter sacred space, time needs to be suspended, and rational doubts need to be deferred. The mind needs to be cleared and open for elevated thoughts. Sacredness demands it.
So needing to connect to this hallowed space, I placed my open palms against the golden stone and conjured a cognitive imagining that if the electrons in the extremities of my hands would form a bond with the electrons of the stone in the Wall, at least a connection could be made on an atomic level. Theoretically, the Wall and I would be one. Now that would be something. Certainly, if God is everything as Spinoza taught, it would happen So, with my palms and forehead pressed against the very same stones that countless numbers of my people touched and wept upon, my Zeydeh’s tallis covering my head and shoulders, I desperately tried to physically and emotionally connect with my God, the Temple Wall, my history, and my people.
Like in most things, we expect God to do the work for us, and I must once again remind myself that that is not how God works in this world. A midrash tells us that Nachshon ben Amidai walked into the sea up to his nose before the sea parted for the children of Israel. He did something to create his own miracle. He did his work and his work was one of faith. I had done no work, and as I had withheld myself from the work, the Wall withheld itself from me. That was a major learning or relearning. And with that learning came a fuller understanding of the need for preliminary prayers, niguns, and focused imagery prior entering sacred time and sacred space. It takes time and a special mind set to realize before whom you stand when you face the Western Wall. Preparation is the key to the pardes gate. I had come with too many expectations for myself, for the Wall, and for God. I had not done what I had to do to make my miracle happen.
Standing there, were other blurts of revelations. One image that came to me was that I was in a place where all around me Jewish men were praying openly with reverence and passion, totally comfortable in their Judaism, and that I had never been as comfortable with my Judaism as I was at that moment. Another flash made me aware that I was in my ancestral homeland, and that if I could, I could trace myself back thirty-five hundred years to some farmer or herder who had sent his genetic material through centuries to a descendant who had finally returned to where his family began.
Lastly, it came to me that the mighty Roman Empire that burned the Holy Temple and carried away its great treasure and people to build the Coliseum and beautify Rome, was long dead, and that I and my people were still here, still vibrant, and still trying to inch the world to a better tomorrow. And like the Western Wall, my people had survived the calumnies, the humiliations, and the brutalities of the centuries, and I know we shall continue to survive and continue our God given mission to bear witness to His law and to mend the world. Perhaps that all that can be learned at the Wall when time is limited and schedules demand attention and one has not truly prepared himself before entering such a sacred space.
I did not get from the Wall what I came for, but I certainly did not walk away empty.