A Lesson in Payer at the Western Wall
One summer I found myself at the Kotel drenching under the Israeli sun. I’d spent a few hours above ground scrolling down the Facebook post where hundreds of people had responded to my offer to daven for them and their loved ones. When my phone battery died, I took to the underground tunnel that runs along the wall. The space opposite the location of the Holy of Holies is reserved for women who come to pray. These to me are the hidden and real women of the wall. I’m always touched by their sincerity and focused attention; the quiet tears and the gentle but unobtrusive support the women afford each other. I’m also a little, well, jealous. Prayer has never been easy for me.
Another few hours and I was wrung out. I pried myself away. As I entered the passageway adjacent to that sacred space, I saw a woman standing in agitated prayer. Her cotton clothes were so thin you could vaguely see through them. She had flip-flops on her feet. She was bony, angular, black haired. And she was speed-talking to G-d.
“I told You!,” she blurted in a strong Hebrew accent. “I need money! How many times do I have to come here? Each time I have to pay a babysitter. Pay for the bus. I come back and back. And nothing! Don’t you understand? I…Need…Money…I feel like I’m talking to the wall!”
I burst out laughing. Couldn’t help it. The laugh just bubbled up from my belly and out my throat. My flip-flop speed-talker looked up startled like a deer in headlights.
“May G-d bless you and fulfill your heart’s desires,” I said, sorry for having intruded on her conversation.
“Oh, you speak French?” she responded. Apparently my Hebrew “R” sounds like that of a Frenchwoman. I wasn’t going to get into a conversation and so added to my blessing and continued down the passageway.
Her prayer made a deep impression on me. Here I’d been praying for roughly 5 hours. But her direct, honest words captured so much more depth. It struck me that I say I’m praying – but in truth (blush) I feel like I’m talking to a wall. She complained to G-d that talking to him felt like speaking to a wall – but in truth she was really, truly praying. She had bought in to the fact that G-d sees her, hears her and can answer our prayers at any moment. Something I know as a concept but struggle to internalize.
At times I’ve had to resort to praying for the ability to pray. I think my encounter with that nameless, holy person was in some way an answer to my own prayer. May hers and all of our requests for good be fulfilled and may our hearts be opened to sincere and simple prayer.