Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Wall

I stood there at the kotel in Yerushalayim, the holiest site we have, and tried to pray.

I searched for the words to express myself, but even more, I searched for the emotion I knew I should feel.

My lips moved soundlessly as I began a one-sided dialogue with God. I told Him that this year has been hard for me, that I have learned a lot, but that I have lost a lot as well. I told Him that, as much as I have gained, I am concerned that the past few months have brought me to a place I’m not happy with, a place where much of my passion is merely surface-level. I am worried, I told Him, that some of the things I’ve learned have had negative effects as well as positive ones. For example, increased understanding of the other side of an issue can weaken one’s own convictions. If I can see every side of any coin, my own view becomes more blurry, my determination to follow through less intense.

You know that I still have my beliefs, I said. They’ve shifted this year, of course, as I’ve grown, and that’s a good thing. And I can still argue my perspective as eloquently as ever, and it sounds right to me, and True. But that’s just it. It’s all sounds. I like the sounds, I like the thoughts behind them, and when I articulate it, I am happy to believe it. But what is belief if it isn’t manifested in every aspect of life, if you don’t feel it there pulsing, behind everything you do? Judaism isn’t, it can’t be, purely intellectual. Intellectual it must be, I believe that, but it must be emotional as well. And more than emotional—it must be all encompassing. I used to have that, at least, much of the time. But now…?

And I told Him that I know the old me is gone. A certain purity of faith, a certain innocence, has vanished. I feel blasé now, in a way, jaded almost. I feel flat. It comes with the loss of emotion, which itself stems from a few factors I can (but won’t) name. I’ll regain the emotion, I am determined to do it, and so I will, but I will never have the old me back. I’ll reach a new level, somewhere more nuanced, more complex; yet I will miss the way I was. I’m a lot older now—not in days, but in spirit. I will be refreshed one day, I pray—but there is no going back. I resolve to go forward.

So I stood there, talking to Him, spilling out my soul, yet all along I realized: it wasn’t real.

I wanted it, so badly, to be real. I was trying so hard. Yet I still couldn’t feel anything. I said to myself, this is the kotel, the holiest place, I must feel the connection. But then I answered back: this is only the outer wall. Inside, behind this wall, the Beit Hamikdash should lie. Behind this wall is where the Shechina really dwelt. But here—I was on the outside.

I stood, gazing up, at the stones of a wall, too solid to break through. And inside myself stood another structure of stone, separating me from my emotion, from reaching God and holiness. And I felt—how I hated to admit it!—that I was only talking to myself.

As I backed away from the kotel and into the plaza, my heart was heavy—because that was the only thought that could wet my eyes with tears.


Northern Light said...

A very personal and revealing post. I hope you find the holiest place close to you wherever you are. By the way, our faith is not static; it changes by the hour, by the focus, by the people with whom we communicate and learn. I find that my struggles to be connected to Hashem are constant ups and downs, and perhaps such challenges keep it fresh and engaging and important.

jackie said...

Wow. I can totally relate.

M.R. said...

SJ, you've written what I've felt too often before, and you've expressed it fully and beautifully. Thank you.

Scraps said...

Wow... I don't even know what else to say. I can relate in many, many ways.

Thank you for sharing this.

the apple said...

I've held off commenting because I'm not sure that I can really add much to what you and the other commenters have said, but I wanted you to know that I read this and was very impressed.

(Btw, remember what you said to me in the hotel about blogging, and what we learn through it? I think I understand what you meant more clearly now.)

Freeda said...

I've had the same experience before. And when discussing it with others, realized i'm not the only one. Everyone talks about how at the wall you can feel the kedusha and it's so real to talk to Him, ve'ode ve'ode. Not nec. true.
And you're so brave to tell us your thoughts like that.

Freeda said...

I just went to the kosel today. I guess the fact that I almost lost s/1 very close to me this year made it more real. And the fact that I have someone else who only He can help. In those situations where there's no one but Hashem, He becomes more of a reality.