"שלוש פעמים בשנה יראה כל זכורך את פני האדון ה' אלקי ישראל"
However, in recent years my regular chol hamoed visits have become increasingly unpleasant. The throngs that flock to Jerusalem over Chag have been (Barukh Hashem) so overwhelming that one year, we experienced a policeman directing the pedestrian traffic through the Rova. The parking has been impossible, and so what might have been a somewhat short visit to daven has become a hot, tiring, crowded trek for the entire family. In addition the pilgrimage has lacked a particularly spiritual component, as with the Kotel so full, it is difficult to concentrate or focus, and one is concerned to lose one of the kids. So, last chol hamoed, for the first time in about 20 years, I just didn’t go.
Well – after my highly positive experience at the Kotel last night, I have a new plan.
I went there to give a shiur to my Talmidim. Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi was holding its end-of-winter-zman “Mishmar” - learning all night with Vatikin at dawn – by the Wall. I arrived at the Old City at 12:30 and headed to the Wall.
As I emerged from the car, the air was fresh, the streets were quiet, serene, calm. Whenever one goes to the Kotel one anticipates an experience of “Klal Yisrael” – an encounter with a mix of Jews that communicates a deep feeling that beyond our diversity and difference, that there is a fundamental unity of all Jews. This was my mindset as I made my way from Sha’ar HaAshpot towards the security checkpoint. It didn't take long to engage with that diversity. Far ahead were 3 Yeshiva Students. About twenty yards behind me were 4 people – two couples – smiling, jovially teasing one another. They were secular; the women in jeans, the men bare-headed. But they too were making their way to the Wall. Alongside me, an elegantly dressed young lady wearing leggings, carrying a designer handbag walked with a sense of purpose. Who was this woman, I wondered? I was trying to define her, to label her into one of the classic categories, the “tribes” in which we live. As she approached the washbasin, she washed her hands with the washing cup – 3 times alternately. By the way she washed her hand, it was evident that she was accustomed to this ritual. Was she religious? Secular? Newly religious? Once religious? - Who knows? Did she come here regularly? Was she here to pray for someone sick? ... it really didn’t matter. I proceeded, enjoying the fact that we were all here, together; lots of different stereotypes. Tonight, it felt like we all belonged here, in all our difference.
The Kotel was calm, beautiful and reverent. Even the people calling us for a minyan – “Arvit; Arvit!” - made their announcement in soft tones. The Hazzan who lead my minyan – a red-head Hassidic man – davened with expressive kavvana. A simple, daily Ma'ariv, became elevated. Somehow, whenever I am at the Kotel, I sense that I have a special opportunity to stand at the “Gate of Heaven” and to really speak to God. I tried to inject my tefilla with special meaning, to genuinely connect with God. At this late hour, there was no rushing, no pushing; the minyan took its time.
And then, giving shiur. The Yeshiva were congregated there, all sitting at shtenders in the inner area, under Wilson’s Arch, some in havrutot, some learning alone. One or two boys had fallen asleep. I gave shiur to 25 guys, all huddled together, and I tried to communicate to them a sense of our special historic privilege. I told the boys: “Look where we are! Some 2 thousand years ago, our forefathers walked across the bridge above our heads leading the lambs into the Temple, to bring the Korban Pesach! Jews yearned for thousands of years to stand at this very spot. We may not have a Beit Hamikdash, but the Shekhina never leaves this site. We can still fulfill our obligation (Shemot 23:17) to “present ourselves” before God’s presence.” My shiur was Pesach oriented – Redemption, Eliyahu Hanavi, and other related themes. 1 a.m. and I was inspired by the fire of Eliyahu Hanavi, and the interest of my students.
So, I thought to myself, I have now discovered that this is the time of day to come to the Kotel. I think I am going to try to visit regularly now, late at night, at this magical hour when all is calm, when one can daven without interruption, when the Kotel returns to being enchanting, spiritual, inspirational. It is wonderful to have re-discovered my path back to the Kotel.
Chag Kasher Vesameach!