There are three things that people can leave at the kotel. They can leave their fingerprints, if they touch the wall. They can leave small notes, if they care to write something down. And they can leave their deepest hopes and most pressing concerns, if they decide to pray. But I have never left any of these things.
The minute I enter the plaza by the wall, I’m overcome with some kind of attention deficit syndrome. There’s just too much sensory overload. So many different kinds of Jews, from so many far corners of the earth, and they are just pouring out their souls and spilling out their hearts into the air. It’s intoxicating and suffocating all at once; it’s mesmerizing, and so I find it impossible to concentrate.
Mostly when I visit the kotel, I just sit there and watch. And if you can’t bring yourself to touch the wall, or write something down in a note or whisper it into the air, then you’ve missed an opportunity. G-d, however, knows what’s on your mind anyway, or at least that was my flimsy excuse until the one time I finally did leave something at the kotel. It was an umbrella.
Here’s the story:
Several years ago I made a trip to Israel in the winter. Because it’s the rainy season then, I bought myself an ultra light travel umbrella. Very compact and slim, it fit nicely into a side pocket of my jacket. Before boarding the plane, El Al did a major security check of all the passengers. Every carry-on item was screened by a huge x-ray scanner. My jacket went through, the umbrella fell out, and the machine got jammed. El Al was not happy. I didn’t get my umbrella back, and the empty pocket of my jacket was bothering me.
The plane flew to New York and there was a three-hour stop over before boarding the connecting flight to Tel Aviv. I decided to see if I could find another travel umbrella at the airport, but it was midnight and most of the shops were closed. The ones that were open didn’t have umbrellas, until finally, I came to the store at the end of the terminal. Et voila todah, there it was, an ultra light travel umbrella, the last one left! As I headed to the departure gate I ran into an older Israeli couple on my same flight. They had been tagging behind me the whole time and wanted to know what was causing me such agitation. So I told them.
But the gentleman just shrugged and sighed, “Chaval al ha-z’man, you really won’t need an umbrella, because there’s been a terrible drought for some time now.” And when he saw the look of disappointment on my face he decided to tease me, because he added these words: “I will give you a bracha. In the z’chut of your rushing around to buy an umbrella, G-d should open up the water gates of heaven and let the rain fall.”
The most powerful brachot in the world don’t always come from the rabbis or the mystics, sometimes they come out of the mouths of cynical Israelis. I decided to tuck that bracha into the side pocket of my jacket and keep it, along with my new ultra light umbrella. I shlepped it around Israel with me for three weeks. The skies stayed dry, but the umbrella started to feel heavy, because…
Because if you’re an American, you don’t usually think very much about rain. Water is abundant, easily available, and cheap. We teach our children a little song, “Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day.” Even the kids learn to regard it as inconvenient. It gets in the way of our plans. We never stop to consider the rain for what it truly is: a life sustaining gift from the heavens.
The Friday afternoon before I left, I found myself at the kotel staring up at the pigeons. Those are special Yerushalmee pigeons, do you know this? The nests up at the top of the wall have been in certain prestigious pigeon families for generations. And the Sephardi pigeons aren’t congregating with the Ashkenazi pigeons or vice versa, for sure. You see? I can’t concentrate at all. How can I pray if I’m busy thinking about pigeons? And that silly travel umbrella, what a waste of my time! I was starting to ache from the weight of carrying it around.
I took it out. I opened it up. And I shook it like a lulav in all the directions of the universe. And I left it there, like a prayer, on a chair in front of the kotel. After all, I was leaving right away after shabbat, what did I need it for? And my pocket felt lighter on empty. But as soon as shabbat ended, a peculiar thing happened. The skies opened up and it poured.
On motzei shabbat I caught a flight back to the US, without an umbrella. My clothes were all soaked, and my head was up in the clouds. Mah-sheev Ha-Ruach U’Moreed HaGeshem. And the pocket of my jacket was no longer empty. It was filled…with Jerusalem rain.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.