We began our day walking to the Aish HaTorah World Center located opposite the Kotel (the Wall) in the Old City. The morning was warm, and the walk brisk, but it felt wonderful to be breathing the Jerusalem air.
|Chihuly in the main entrance of the Aish center.|
|To scale model of the Second Temple located on the Aish rooftop.|
(Picture taken by Mimi David)
Our first workshop at the Aish World Center was called Discovering the Real You and it was taught by Lori Palatnik. She discussed the GPS (G-d Positioning System) and she brought up the term השגחה פרטית (Hashgacha Pratis). This loosely translates as Divine Providence, or as I like to interpret it through my hipie-dippy lens, Awareness of G-d Carrying Me Through Life's Journey. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and Rabbi Isaac Luria have interesting commentary and writings about this concept. However, Lori did not start and stop there.
She challenged us with the question of "Where are we going?" G-d is trying to talk to us but we don't hear through the noise. We have to clear out our insecurities and other schmutz that is the background noise. The past does not exist--it is over. The future hasn't happened--it does not exist. Worrying about both of those things only serves to make us miss out on the here and now--the present.
Lori then said a phrase that has really stuck with me. "Greater than loving someone is understanding them." This is a powerful concept. She exampled it in terms of a teen. When you tell your teen that you love him, and he thinks you don't really even know him (the real him), then those words are meaningless. It is as if you are saying you love the thought of what you think he is, instead of the real him. Greater than "loving" your teen is "understanding" your teen, really knowing him. In this way a real connection is made. One can substitute "teen" with "husband," "friend," "parent" or any other applicable person.
From there, we learned about three different approaches to life. These are direct teachings from Rabbi Noah Weinberg (zt"l). It is basically a personality analysis that is manifest through the soul and the body, and can be used to aid us in understanding and reacting to others as well as ourselves. It has the potential to make us better parents, spouses, friends and people. Although we inhabit all three traits to varying degrees, we each have a specific approaches to our soul and our body. The three traits are Chaim, Bracha and Tov. Because I cannot write about this nearly as concisely as I would like, I will refer you to this summary: Click here for Article
Soon enough, it was time to visit the Kotel for the first time this trip. Aish has direct access to the Wall from its premium location. All we had to do was go down a flight or two of stairs and then there we were - at the Kotel!
As Aura, Rachael and I walked toward the Kotel, the call to prayer rang loudly, surrounding us and producing an intense energy. If you have never heard this before, Click Here to hear it. This was the backdrop of our approach to Wall. It was beyond surreal, and before I could even process it, there were tears streaming down my face. I looked over at Aura and she, too, had tears. The beauty of the call to prayer coupled with the intense energy for our sacred Kotel was simply overwhelming.
As I approached my stone, the stone I went to each time before on my 2009 trip, I saw that many were already davening there. Patiently, I waited for the space to become available. It was not a long wait. I approached it hesitantly, hoping to experience some kind of connection but prepared with my book of Psalms just in case.
I placed my two hands on my stone, forehead pressed against it...and it was suddenly and unexpectedly like I was in the middle of a Carol Rose imagery class. My body was instantly a vessel, and energy swirled in and out of it, quickly. Thoughts, words - impossible. I was solely a vessels of emotion, energy, and non-verbal communication - it ran through me and out of me. The meditations of my heart leaving me in waves and the acceptance of the Divine flowing freely through every part of me. In. Out. Upward bound. All encompassing.
I tried a few times to produce thoughts or prayers, but the energy flow was automatic, out of my control and thoughts could not slow things enough to be created. It was confusing and beautiful at the same time. At some point, I stepped away from the stones. It took several deep breathes to collect myself. As I walked backwards, taking in the awesomeness before me and as more and more of the Wall came into my view, I was struck by the dichotomy of it. These are just stones / what just happened /// this is a retaining wall / this place is sacred /// stones / G-d's presence. Suddenly, I was next to Aura. We faced the Wall, taking it all in. She looked at me and said something along the lines of "It is hard to believe that these are just stones in a wall, so why do I feel this way?" She spoke my heart.
I was thankful that in the evening I was able to process this experience with Rachael, my roommate for the trip and my friend.We laid in the dark for hours, processing, discussing, dissecting, examining from all angles, and putting back together our experiences. We discussed this connection that occurred for both of us, in different ways. This vesseling of myself, the imagery attached to it, the energy -- the contact receiving and giving involved with it -- it was a beautiful, powerful and a deeply meaningful experience. To not need words or thoughts to connect to the Divine is nothing short of amazing. I don't know what it means. I am just left with an impression and a feeling.
In case you are interested in what my very first Kotel experience was, my November 28, 2009, entry describes it. If you don't care to read it, this entry ends here! :) If you do, here it is!
We went to the Kotel that first night. It was Shabbos. I knew my experience at the Wall could go either way. I had already heard stories about people who went with great expectations and were disappointed. I had done my homework before leaving for Israel. Well, actually my homework was just calling Carnie in advance to find out exactly what I was supposed to do when I got there. Was there something in particular I was supposed to pray? Could I carry my small book of Psalms there on Shabbat? Let me tell you, as you already know, it is extremely comforting to have a rabbi that is available and present.
We stopped to the side before entering the Kotel area and made Kiddish off to the side. And then, we were there. Wow! It was surreal! The men’s side was active! Swarms of black-hatted men singing, dancing and swirling in a large circular whirlpool-like configuration. So this is how one welcomes Shabbat with joy! Their energy was amazing. I imagine that the males on this trip wondered how the heck they were going to actually get to the Wall in the sea of celebration!
The women’s side was smaller than I had imagined it would be. It was much more subdued. Still, I was nervous about getting to the actual Wall. I may have even asked Margo, “How do we get up there?” and she may have answered, “Just push your way through!” It wasn’t so hard. I made it to the stones, to an area close to the men’s section and wedged myself between two petite, older women who were fervently praying as I image Hannah did when she begged G-d to give her a child. Somewhere to the left and behind me were five or six teenage girls, standing shoulder to shoulder, singing an angelic sounding Niggun. Off in the distance I could hear the men and their joyous shouts to G-d and each other. It was other-world…but it was also comfortable, like wearing flannel pajamas. I had a feeling of being so-out-of-place but right-where-I-am-supposed-to-be in the same moment, and being surrounded by the intense energy of those around me really allowed me to experience a kind of joy that I am not accustomed to on Shabbat and one I hope to be able to draw on in the future.
The next night when Shabbat was over and so were all the activities on our agenda, Jim and I opted to visit the Wall again as opposed to going out for a nightcap or calling it a day. I personally wanted to go there again in a more focused way. I was curious what it would be like when it wasn’t Shabbat. I was inspired to have a perspective change (this is a reoccurring theme in my visit to Israel)…I was inspired and beckoned to open myself to receive G-d…as if G-d was searching for me as much as I search for Him. My experience was one of opening and receiving, of allowing myself to be present in that moment, at that holy place, even if just for a moment, and then soaking that moment up. I am still absorbing and processing it.
Leaving Jerusalem was hard, especially because I knew we would not be back. I missed it the moment we left and I still miss it.