Essays Print
Meditations at the Kotel by Ellen Carni
Meditations at the Kotel by Ellen Carni

Volume 2 , Issue 2

August 9, 1988

I am standing at the Western Wall of the ancient temple in Jerusalem. This holy wall, crumbling but stalwart, is a fragment of what was, at one time, a most formidable structure. It has not lost in spiritual stature. While desert grass sprouts from between the stones, the crevices of the Wall tighten with bits of folded paper on which countless Jews have made impassioned personal requests from the Almighty.

My feet are rooted in 3000 years of Jewish history; my psyche merges with the collective consciousness of the Jewish people; beneath me and around me. I am riveted by a strongly spiritual sense, an ethereal closeness to the Divine. This feeling seems to be shared by many beside me, as each of us says a few passages of Tehillim, davens from a siddur, or murmurs a personal prayer. Women come close and touch the wall. Tears fall from their faces, while their children wail for them from behind

It is only moments of silent meditation before I see a vision of my father. He is wearing his kittel, which he wore only on the high holidays. He is walking around, a high priest in the Temple, doing the business of serving God, helping the souls at the Kotel (the Wall), from the other side. He is enormously happy, emanating a radiance and a contentedness perhaps greater than I'd ever known of in his lifetime. This emanation is akin to the joy of a special occasion, let's say, the birth of one of the grandchildren, but it differs in a fundamental way: here it is a sense of day-to-day satisfaction, an ongoing peace. I am happy for him, relieved to find him so well.

August 18

I am atop the ancient fortress of Masada. The red sun has just risen over the vast desert. Having climbed the tortuous mountainside, I am reclining on a rock, quietly joining the others in davening the Morning Prayer, the Shacharit. P., our leader, begins to sing:

I asked this from God; this, I beseeched of him:

Let me dwell in Thy house all the days of my life,

To experience the pleasantness of God

And to sojourn in His dwelling.

P. raises the paradox of why both the second and the third person are used to address God. He explains that while one wishes for familiarity with the Lord, one also remains aware of His awesomeness and of the limits of the Divine-human relationship. Shivers are running down my spine and limbs. Suddenly, I understand my experience at the Wall.

This passage is precisely the one which I had chosen to conclude a personal biography I had written about my father. It was my prayer for him and my supposition of what he wanted upon passing on. My father now wished me to know the canniness of my intuition and that he had indeed received what he deserved. For ?the house of the Lord? is the Temple, of which the Kotel is the one remaining wall, and to serve in the Temple (the Temple without walls) as a priest is to reside in both a familiar and a formal relationship with the Supreme Power.

Later, our guide tells us a story of Yigal Yadin excavating a parchment from the book of Ezekiel, in which are written the famous words, ?And you shall revivify the bones of the nation ...? Yadin, as the chief archaeologist of Masada, who had literally discovered bones of those who perished there and brought them into the light and consciousness of the contemporary world, was moved to experience this last discovery as a personal message to him. I use Yadin's interpretation to authorize the legitimacy of my message from my Dad.

August 21

I am standing at the Western Wall for the last time during my trip. I know I must say goodbye to my father. Already, as I approach the plaza, I can hear him summing up my progress and proffering his opinion, as he would do at transitional times in my planation is not without truth. But who life. I miss him with the most exquisite pain. I expect to hear the old, familiar stuff: ?Give more attention to your Judaism. Get Married.? But I do not. Instead, I hear, ?You are an adult and I have confidence that you can make your own decisions.? I don't want to stay and bear the sadness, but I don't want to leave and say goodbye. ?You can't hang on to your father,? he says. ?You must go forth and live your life.? I have had all that I can handle. It is time for closure. His soul is at peace. His personality is unchanged, for better or for worse. Quickly, I walk away.

My experience can be easily explained as the wish fulfilling fantasies of a person in the late stages of mourning. The ex‑among us can truly determine the source and nature of the mind's musings? And what a pity it would be, especially for those of us who believe in God, to close off the possibilities of communication from the Divine.

There is no place empty of Him.

And God is where man lets Him in.

Menachem Mendel of Kolsk

More's the pity to dismiss the evocative powers of the Kotel. As a symbol alone, this special Wall can stimulate our hearts and our minds to give greater consideration to our selves, our relationships with others, and our relationship to God as Jews.



All Rights Reserved(c) The Jewish Review, Inc., 1987-2011