Issue 9 – March 16, 2006
Thoughts on Ancient Times & Current Events by
AWAKING THE DAWN
Underground at The Kotel
Women davening at daybreak,
underground in the Western
Wall Tunnels, at Warren’s
Gate – the closest point to
the location where the Holy of Holies once stood.
(© Ashirah Yosefah Photo)
“Hear my voice,
Hashem, at daybreak; at daybreak I plead before You, and wait.
Jerusalem is an amazing city.
It is the one city on the face of the earth where the Creator of the
Universe, the G-d of Israel,
has chosen to place His Name and where, in days to come, His Divine Presence
will inhabit the future Temple. Truthfully, His Presence is always tangible
especially near The Temple Mount, if one looks beyond the surface of things.
Jerusalem affords opportunities that are unique and always
memorable; to live here is a great privilege.
Torah learning abounds and celebration of the Feasts is unlike anywhere
else. The sights and sounds along the
night-cloaked streets each Friday evening when Shabbat arrives and people enter
into its presence are unspeakable joys:
Songs waft through open windows, voices offer up Divrei
Torah, and people amble along in a beautiful saunter that I like to call ‘the Shabbos pace’.
This city holds a fascination
for anyone who honors the G-d of Israel, but most people only
experience it on vacation, if at all. It
is for this reason that Shuvoo often shares photos and ‘word-pictures’ of Israel, Jerusalem,
our people, and the memorable experiences and events that so often transpire
Purim festivities have been
abundant throughout Israel
this week, with costumes and celebration, but there is an aspect of Purim that
is unknown to many. Purim is one of
those special times during the Jewish year when tefilah
(prayer) has special power and merit. It
is a segulah (a precious, cherished thing) to give
particular attention to prayer on Purim.
Of course, when one thinks of prayer, many also think of The Kotel (the Western Wall).
People pray at the Kotel every hour of the day
and night, but there are some special times and places of prayer that are not
evident to most Kotel visitors.
This narrow passageway in the Western
Wall tunnels daily echoes softly with the footsteps
of men and women arriving pre-dawn to pray.
(© Ashirah Yosefah Photo)
Each morning, in the pre-dawn
hours, men and women go underground into the Western Wall tunnels (actually the
arched streets of previous ages) to ‘awaken the dawn’, as it were. Men daven
in an underground synagogue that hugs the Western Wall. The timbre of their voices resonates
throughout the tunnels, enabling women to join in the congregational responses
to the Kadish and Kedushah prayers. At the end of the Shacharit
services, four times a week, a shofar is sounded that
fills the synagogue and the tunnels with its heart-rending tones. Everyone davening
stops and listens in silent, rapt attention.
It is an inspiring way to greet the day.
Women line the passage leading to
Warren’s Gate, tucked into every
available nook and cranny.
(© Ashirah Yosefah Photo)
in nooks and crannies along the expanse of exposed Wall, below the ground level
of the Kotel, but there is one particular spot called
that is a cherished place to pray. The
small room-like alcove faces a sealed archway that once led onto the Temple Mount
at the point closest to the Holy of Holies.
Candles glow warmly along the rear wall, adding to the ambient warmth
exuding from women clustered shoulder to shoulder, morning by morning, pouring out their hearts as water before Hashem. Soft strains of Hebrew rise into the air
mingled with sobs, as tears, kisses and fingerprints coat the aged stones of
the archway in a veneer of human pain, joy, love and petition. A silent code of ethics prevails as we each
step aside or back to allow another to press as close as possible to that holy
stone that will, please G-d, soon be graced with the Third Temple.
There is, however, one
morning each week that is more special than the rest: Friday morning – Erev
Shabbat. Let me explain by sharing the
treasures I encountered as I entered the tunnels last Friday morning. Each Thursday evening, men gather in rooms
off the tunnels and in the synagogue to study Torah throughout the night,
culminating their studies with Neitz, the pre-dawn
prayers. There is an opening in the
tunnels close to the Wall where a table and chairs are located. As I rounded the corner and entered the room on
my way to Warren’s
Gate, the presence of the men who had studied there through the night was
tangible. The table top was adorned with
Siddurim (prayer books). Disposable coffee cups, some empty, some
holding the leftovers of a final cup of java, dotted the table. I stopped to marvel at the tangible presence
of holiness in the room and a shofar began to
sound. Making my way to Warren’s Gate, I quickly
discovered the passageway leading to it was filled with women praying. Every nook was taken. I slid through into the alcove and bodies
parted to allow me to reach the smooth stone wall, to bestow a kiss and prayer
of greeting, then I wound my way back to the Ezrat Nashim (a women’s hall) above the synagogue. Looking through the lattice mechitzah, the site of the shul below
filled with men davening and animatedly, but softly,
discussing the fruit of their night’s study was a spectacular treat for my
still sleepy eyes. Later, it was as if a
tide had ebbed, then flowed. The men present
at my arrival departed and a wave of newcomers arrived: Many of them fathers with their sons. Peering through the mechitzah,
I looked on as a father watched his bar mitzvah age son wrap tefillin. The joy
and pride upon the father’s face brought tears to my eyes; it was too exquisite
Jerusalem is an astounding place; the Temple Mount
is its crown. The physical condition of
that ‘crown’ is not what we would desire at present, but our hope is strong for
the restoration of the Temple
Mount to its full
splendor, may it be in our lifetime.
There are sights and sounds in this holy place that strengthen our hope
and give us courage, even when hearts pour out tears of pain through the words
of our prayers.
Judaism is a faith, a way of
life that has survived throughout the centuries because of the bonds of Torah
and tradition. The daily prayer services
are one of those traditions that represent the service of the heart and replace
the daily sacrifices in the absence of the Temple.
“Instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] of
lips.” (Hoshea 14:3)
May this glimpse into early
morning prayer amidst the stones of Western Wall Tunnels grant you a sense of
the inner beauty of the Kotel, a beauty crafted
throughout the ages by the daily service of the heart.
“Let me learn of your faithfulness by daybreak, for in
You I trust;
let me know the road I must take, for on You I have
set my hope.”