The Wailing Wall

It was smaller than I imagined.

In my mind, I had conceived it as this enormous barrier, unyielding and reaching for the sky. But it was not like that at all. It was not some last proud warrior of its people, standing in defiance against the centuries and the wars waged before it.

It was humble, in a way. It was ancient. And it stood there so simply, as if to say, “Here I am,” that I couldn’t fathom at first how to approach it or talk to it.

It was just a wall.

And yet I watched the other women approach it so reverently, that it might have been the Ark of the Covenant itself. I watched them bow before it, pressing their foreheads and lips against it. Some of them chanted verses from a small book they carried. Others simply stood at the wall and wept.

I didn’t know how to walk up to it. What was I supposed to do, once my fingertips were withing grasping distance of the enormous sand-colored stones? Was I supposed to cry, to pray? I have never been good at doing either on cue.

Some things just have to be done. It was impossible to turn away and say in the future that I had stood twelve feet away from the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem and then turned away, because I did not know how to approach it. So I made my way to the front. I stood in front of the ancient wall, and laid my fingertips and forehead on the stone, knowing that so many who had come before me had placed their fingertips here as well, and their foreheads in the same location.

I closed my eyes. I listened to the woman next to me, who was weeping softly and murmuring a prayer in Hebrew. I listened to the woman on my other side, who was quietly reading from the Torah. I opened my eyes in time to watch the first woman push a written prayer into the cracks between the stones, and leave.

I looked up. There were hundreds and thousands of written messages pushed into the cracks of the wall. Hundreds and thousands of desperate prayers, and messages of hope and loss and yearning and despair.

Out of nowhere, my eyes began to well with tears. It did not matter that I was a stranger from around the world, observing a faith and religion that was barely my own; I understood being human. And here was this wall, filled with that humanity; filled with centuries upon centuries of breathtaking humanity.

I set my forehead back against the wall and began to cry. I was so painfully aware of the silent suffering this ancient wall represented, but I still did not know what I was supposed to do. “God,” I thought. “I’m here. But I don’t know what to do.

My admitted helplessness was met with a sudden downpour of rain. Behind me, I heard several women gasp and cry out, and many ran for cover. A storm had opened unexpectedly upon our heads, water pelting down like bullets. But then several of the women began to laugh as well, and I turned in time to watch a group of them form and begin to dance in a circle, holding hands as they chanted happily. Their feet splashed in the rapidly forming puddles, and the circle grew larger and larger as they welcomed other women into the song. Their laughter drew me away from the centuries of longing, back into the present moment, and the miracle of so much rain. I began to laugh as well – and there I was, at the Western Wall, laughing and crying, feeling simultaneously so much weight and so much joy.

My entry into Jerusalem began thus – with the lesson that there is nothing to do. All we can do is find a way to greet our lives every morning, even if we are unsure what to do with them. We must feel our humanity, and let our humanity be the mercurial entity that cries for the suffering of others in the same moment that it laughs like a child dancing in the rain.

All we have to do, is be human. It is everything and nothing. And it is enough.

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