Inspirational Passage of the Day
A few years ago during one of my many visits to the Wall, I was struck by the lack of self-consciousness that is displayed here on an almost constant basis. As I made my way through the crowded plaza leading up to the wall itself I was literally accosted by joyous whooping. At my side was a group of men wrapped in prayer shawls, faces aglow, and eyes beaming. Nearby over a partition were their wives, each of them modestly clad with colorful head scarves covering their hair. It was from them that this odd chanting/yodeling was emanating. They were perched on chairs, straining their necks to catch a glimpse of the source of all the hubbub: a young boy, on his thirteenth birthday was celebrating his entry into manhood, his becoming a bar-mitzvah. Here before my eyes was joy being celebrated and sanctified. There was a collective gladness of community that one could almost touch. And then I advanced not five feet when another emotionally packed scene played itself out before my eyes. There was a young man dressed in army fatigues, AK-47 strapped over his shoulder, about to approach the wall. I could see that there were angry tears streaking his face. His hand was clenched into a tight fist and he was muttering one word over and over again to himself: LaMa? (Which in Hebrew means “why’?) LaMa? LaMa? I was not privy to the details of his emotional plight, but I began to imagine all kinds of scenarios—personal, familial, military. What I was witness to at that moment was grief. Raw. Pure. Deep.
When one walks away from the Wall, tradition holds that one should not turn his or her back on it. Rather, one should walk away backwards, taking slow and careful steps. There are many reasons for this practice. One reason is that it would seem disrespectful to turn ones back on G-d’s presence. Another reason, is that this curious goodbye walk is a symbolic nod to the emotional component of one’s visit to the Wall. By saying farewell slowly and respectfully, it shows that we are reluctant to part with the genuine emotions we have recently experienced. We want to hold onto to them and cherish them in the hopes that they will make us better people.
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