I went to pray at the Kotel yesterday. The Border Police were there in force even at the Zion Gate. It was oppressively hot, and I could feel sweat trickling down my back long before I reached the women's side. I could have taken the shuttle from the First Station, but I wanted to go on foot. B'regel. There is something of the dust and heat of Jerusalem that is a different kind of mikveh, an immersion of intent that one must accomplish alone even though surrounded by others hurrying to their destinations. The transit and tour buses grind resolutely along the roads only inches away from pedestrians, hurrying to wherever as if afraid that if Israel were to lose its momentum, it would crash back to earth from its miraculous, precarious perch of resurrected life.
The people here are as stubborn as the daily sun that warms the silent army of dud shemesh standing their sentry posts atop each city building. The solar water heaters are like the people, passively, yet aggressively making the Land livable. In spite of the difficulties and high cost of living, those who come here find a way to cling as doggedly to the Land as to their faith that the Creator of the Universe designated it to Himself.
Out of respect for the sacrifices of those who build Jerusalem, and especially the environs of the Temple Mount with appreciation for its sanctity, I've always thought it important to consider the modesty of those who secured this place where I can come to pray and consider the eternal Words of prophecy. In opening their gates to the nations, however, the sacredness of the holy spaces for worship and prayer is invaded by the ethnocentric, ill-instructed curiosity seekers.
Mingled with those who live their lives in reverence of Biblical standards of modesty are those who never asked themselves if visiting such a miraculous Land required a different way of dress or behavior. In seeking a House of Prayer for all nations, many of those from the nations are unaware or uncaring of the House rules that demand modesty in holy places. Yesterday it was a challenge to pray with women in shorts or short skirts jostling for Instagram shots and Facebook Live among those praying. They pounded us with their overstuffed backpacks and ogled those who prayed. They wouldn't know which end of a siddur was the front. It was spiritual voyeurism at its worst.
I admit, a touch of Pinchas swept over me. Like the Wicked Son described in the Haggadah, their presence was a question of "What does this mean to YOU?" To YOU, but not to me, for if she had been in Egypt, she would not have been delivered. Unlike Pinchas, I did not have the authority to challenge the obtuse women who disturbed the prayers of those who came to connect with the Divine Presence. I could not drive away those who came to document every moment of their lives for public consumption. Although I am not completely sold on the need to separate men and women in prayer at the Kotel, yesterday I could see its usefulness. I would not want my husband to have to concentrate on a prayer in the presence of so much cleavage and thigh.
While I looked for a sliver of shade in which to pray, however, I saw a woman who had pulled a chair right up to the wall. She was weeping loudly, inconsolably. She pressed her head to the stones, and her siddur was soaked with her tears. She rocked with grief, she pled with HaShem, she interceded, and she refused to be consoled by those who offered tissues and water. This woman, I realized, had the spirit of Rachel, refusing to be comforted for her children. She represented everything I wished I could be, I who wanted to drive away the nakedness of the clueless and unmindful. I took a position behind her to pray, ashamed of my myself.
I've been studying the difference between Shammai and Hillel, the founding sages of the Pharisaic schools. One of the main differences was the leniency of Hillel toward the Gentile convert. He ignored presumptuousness, simple-mindedness, illusions of grandeur, and curiosity-seeking. These were not deal-breakers as they were for Shammai, who wanted his students to have already attained a level of sophistication in education and observance. Hillel simply taught them, and he let them discover their own foolishness as they progressed in their studies.
Although probably many of those half-dressed women departed the place unchanged, I have to wonder how many have left with a sense that they'd witnessed something profound, something to be desired. Yes, most will walk away looking for the next curiosity to post on social media or admiring a selfie that proves they really are doing something important enough to merit a hundred "Likes" with smiley faces. What if, however, one young lady was deeply touched by the utter selflessness of yesterday's "Rachel"? What if the experience motivated her to explore, to open a Bible, to learn to pray?
And what if studying led her to find Adonai's standards of modesty that make Him the main attraction, not one's tanned thighs or latest Tweet? What if finding those standards changed the way she dressed, and she returned to the Kotel one day a Rachel, so completely humbled by the sanctity of standing in the shade of the Temple Mount that she poured out her heart and interceded for the children who have not returned to the House? What if she became one of those persistent, silent sentries on the rooftops who radiate faith in the Torah and Prophecies of Israel?
Every time I come to the Land, the Father shows me a specific reason why I came. This time, I needed to be ashamed for not being a better Rachel. I need to be inconsolable when it comes to interceding for our half-naked return. I need to believe in the one gum-popping seeker who will return in awe and modesty before the Divine.
Jeremy Gimpel was removed from the Temple Mount this week for falling to his knees, overcome with the awe of being so close to the place where the Divine Presence dwelled without Muslim interference. He was removed by Israeli police, but respectfully. All things, including a restoration of the Temple Mount as a House of Prayer for all nations, will come in Heaven's timing. For just a moment, though, I think Mr. Gimpel glimpsed what we all come to experience...and hope for...when we pray below. I believe it is in the merit of the Rachels praying below that eventual restoration will come. It is with tear-soaked pages of siddurs and Bibles and the blasting heat of stubborn faith. It is with dust on our shoes and our clothes, the exhaust of passing buses, and sweat trickling down our backs. It is with riots and with those who both protect our prayers and inhibit them. Jeremy immersed in a mikveh before he went up. The "Rachel" below immersed in tears.
"Gather My godly ones to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice." (Ps 50:5)
It's expensive to visit Israel. It's a sacrifice. It's more expensive to live in Israel. It's a sacrifice. The astounding message, however, is that for those who sacrifice to gather in His appointed Land at His appointed times, He extends a covenant. Like Pinchas, who risked in order to protect the holy place, so we can receive a covenant of peace if we sacrifice to come. Let our obedience to His Word, our persistence, and our inconsolable grief for the lost be a holy sacrifice that merits a covenant of peace. Those who have made a covenant of sacrifice WILL BE GATHERED.
We always think of Adonai being the initiator of covenant. Psalm 50, however, puts covenant initiative in the control of the one who chooses sacrifice. So make one. Make a covenant with the Holy One to weep until all the children return. Weep until they put on their clothes. Weep until they are ready to ascend the Mountain of God in holiness.
You can stand there in judgment of the naked like I did, or you can weep like that woman who pressed her head into the stones of the Holy Mountain so that she could not see anyone else. She could see only the Words of Scripture inscribed in her prayerbook, and her forehead was imprinted with the cries and holy kisses of generations past embedded in the ageless stones. She raised her voice and called on "Hashem" unashamedly, from the depths of her being. Do you think He rejected her pronunciation, or do you think He saved those tears in a bottle?
"You have taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?" (Ps 56:8)
I was not worthy to stand even behind that woman to pray, much less to ascend the Temple Mount. I was not worthy of the mikveh of dust and heat to stand below, much less a mikveh of water to ascend above. I was not worthy of the kindness of the women who stopped to make sure I was okay when I stumbled over the cobblestones along the way. I was not worthy of the free Torah lesson from the scribe in the bookstore.
I bought a new siddur in that bookstore, and without realizing it, I stained the cover with blood from my hand where I scraped it as I tried not to fall. When I returned to the apartment last night, I tried to scrub the bloodstain off, but it wouldn't be removed. Well, good. It will be a reminder of why I came. Blood, sweat, and tears are a good start. My Gethsemane.
You do not know what you will find here until you sacrifice to come.
You will arise and have compassion on Zion;
For it is time to be gracious to her,
For the appointed time has come.
Surely Your servants find pleasure in her stones
And feel pity for her dust.
So the nations will fear the name of the LORD
And all the kings of the earth Your glory. (Ps. 102:13)
Rachel's sons and daughters, let us pray that the Holy One will pity our dust and find pleasure in the prayers etching her stones into our foreheads.