It’s one o’clock at night in the women’s section at the Kotel (Western Wall). Wow. We typically film the men’s section of the Wall during selichot (communal prayers for Divine forgiveness), but the women’s section is no less emotional with more than a thousand women from all backgrounds and lifestyles. A teenager from Rishon LeZion, a grandmother from Modi’in, a new immigrant from France who came to celebrate her birthday.
“Ben adam, mah lecha nirdam, kum kra b’tachanunim” (“Mortal man, why are you sleeping? Get up and cry out your pleas for forgiveness.”) Everyone is masked and social distancing, and there are kindly ushers who make sure everyone follows the rules.
“Pour out your prayers, demand forgiveness from the Lord of lords.” Suddenly the address changes. All day long we speak about [the Israeli government’s] corona cabinet, but now at night we turn to a cabinet of a completely different kind. And suddenly the shouting is not only directed outward, but inward. We are not ashamed to admit that we are not perfect, but rather we are broken, and we want to be fixed: “We will look inside and examine our ways, and return to You.”
And a vocabulary that we did not utilize enough this year dusts itself off: “Answer us, forgive us, do this for Your sake, take pity, pardon, our Father, our King.” The Hebrew words are beautiful and ancient and stirring, yet even little girls quickly learn and repeat the tunes that accompany liturgical poems composed alphabetically. The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are stated again and again, and then, for the last time, the prayer leader asks the crowd to pray for removal of the plague. And then those Thirteen Attributes of Mercy that Moshe Rabbeinu learned were shouted by those assembled at the Kotel tonight. And in the end, silence – only the sound of the shofar is heard.
It is not at all clear what the status of the most critical selichot – recited on Rosh Hashanah Eve and Yom Kippur Eve – will be this year. Normally, a hundred thousand people arrive at the Kotel on these nights. For that matter, who knows how we will be praying on the holidays. But for now, in an open area, while adhering to the guidelines, selichot are still allowed, and tonight I saw men, women and children who came to grab the opportunity to beg for forgiveness.
May our prayers be accepted on High.
Remembering To Be Grateful
The nation of Israel has arrived in the Promised Land and, several hundred years later, is firmly established there. Our Torah portion speaks of a farmer in those days who goes out to his orchard and sees the year’s first fruits on his trees. He takes from these fruits, brings them up to Jerusalem, and in an emotional ceremony gives a speech that is entirely about thanks for the past and hope for the future. What is the meaning of this ceremony? Why would you, the farmer, need to get so emotional over your first figs? Rashi explains why: “So that you are not ungrateful.”
This is a kind of test: Do you know how to be thankful for what you have and to rejoice in it? To see the Source of everything and not to take anything for granted? This message was to be internalized upon entering the Land of Israel and for all time. To continually identify and extol Hashem’s goodness and kindness, and to give thanks to Him for what He does for us every hour of every day. Never to cease to praise and glorify G-d with the utmost enthusiasm. Despite corona, politics, and everything else, Jews of every generation would have traded places with us without question and with unmitigated joy.
The words of the grateful farmer call upon us to look around and express thanks, right now, in order to make sure we are never ungrateful.
(Translation by Yehoshua Siskin)