The Shechinah Is Here – Bamidbar 5774
The Hebrew word Shechinah means “Divine Presence.” Although in reality, God permeates all of time and space equally, we are not able to perceive His presence equally in all times and all places. Venice Beach, California, (as a purely random example) is a place where the Divine Presence is well concealed, and Super Bowl Sunday is a time when the Divine Presence is difficult to perceive. There are moments when God allows us more of a glimpse of the Divine Presence — at sunset towards the end of the Day of Atonement, for instance. There are also places where God allows us a greater degree of perception, such as the Land of Israel. The Torah calls Jerusalem the “Gates of Heaven” and our Sages point out that even after the destruction of the Temple, the Divine Presence has never left the Western Wall.
Tens of thousands of Jews from all over the world, representing every level of religiosity, ignorant and learned, Zionist and anti-Zionist, visit the Western Wall every year. The Western Wall, (HaKotel HaMa’aravi or the Kotel) is the westernmost retaining wall of the Temple Mount, and dates from the Second Temple era. (In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries the English began referring to the Western Wall as the Wailing Wall based on the old Arabic name for it, El Mabka, the place of weeping. Jews, however, have always referred to the wall as the Western Wall, preferring to relate it to the Holy Temple.) Many Jews who visit have no knowledge of the Temple at all, many know little or nothing about Judaism or Jewish history. And yet, the Western Wall draws them like a magnet and often elicits from them deep spiritual feelings. For many people, a single visit to the Western Wall has changed their lives by prompting them to investigate their Jewish roots. We believe that much of this remarkable energy is due to the fact that the “Shechinah never left the Western Wall.”
On the way to Australia from Israel with my two oldest sons, we had a long stopover in Athens. I decided to take the boys to see the Acropolis, one of the most famous and magnificent archaeological sites in the world. On top of the Acropolis, a hill overlooking Athens, stands the Parthenon — a massive pagan temple dedicated to the Greek goddess, Athena. I asked my children to compare the Parthenon with the Western Wall. They pointed out that the Parthenon is made of white marble, while the Kotel is made of limestone; the Parthenon is supported by scaffolding and the Kotel stands unassisted. The Kotel has hyssop growing out of it, while the Parthenon is quite bare of vegetation. The most astute observation that they made however, was in their words, “Hey! No one is davening (praying) at the Parthenon!” My children saw through the pomp, the grandeur and the size of the Parthenon. They saw that the Parthenon and what it represented is dead and long gone; Judaism and the Divine Presence that can be felt at the Kotel are living entities. Many tourists visit the Parthenon, but very few, if any, find the same inspiration and feeling of connection that is regularly experienced at the Western Wall. In 1967, towards the end of the Six Day War, when the Kotel returned to Jewish hands after 1,900 years, there was an unprecedented outpouring of emotion from all Israelis. Although rarely articulated, there is a widespread recognition that the Kotel is more than just a place, it is a portal to a spiritual dimension and an opportunity to connect with God.