Once I read an article that asked the question, “If religious women have such a good life why do they cry so much at the Kotel?” The obvious implication was that Orthodox women are truly miserable. The writer, who has an ax to grind with the observant world, annoyed me with her seeming ignorance. Was she not a mother, daughter, wife, sister, or friend? Were her dear ones never sick, having spiritual problems, out of work, wanting to find their match, or in danger? Did she not care that the Jewish people were still in exile and in dire need of redemption?
Although I consider myself a happy person there have been many times I have cried at the Kotel. Sometimes they are polite, quiet tears. Other times I have sobbed my heart out.
One time in particular stands out in my memory. It was May of 2004. My father had come for a visit while one of my sons was serving in the army. With my son’s permission I called his commander.
“You can hear by my accent,” I told him, “that I was not born here. My eighty-four-year-old father is here for a visit for one week only. Could my son please come home for Shabbat?” I begged.
“If it is at all possible we will send him home,” the commander spoke kindly.
Two days later, on Tuesday, May 11th, six soldiers were killed in Gaza. The following evening another four soldiers and one officer were killed and three were injured. I joined the country in grief and resigned myself to the fact my son would not be getting out for Shabbat.Despite the serious atmosphere my father requested that we take an outing to Jerusalem that would include a visit to the Kotel. We set out Thursday afternoon with a few of our children. The heat of the day was over and it was already pleasant to be outside. As we approached the Kotel we noticed that there was more traffic than normal. Numbers of families were walking with us and they all seemed to be carrying bags of food. When we reached the plaza in front of the Kotel we understood why.
Gathered there was a group of soldiers in their ironed, green, dress uniforms waiting for their swearing-in ceremony to begin. The greetings between the boys and their families were warm and affectionate. Pride and love beamed on the parents’ faces and I could relate to their emotions. Suddenly I thought of the parents of the eleven dead soldiers. Not so long ago they had been excited to come to their sons’ swearing-in ceremony. No doubt they had dragged along boxes of food and schlepped all sorts of relatives. Now they were sitting shiva.
The tears began. I searched my pocket for a tissue and brought myself under control. Next to the Kotel, though, the sobs started. I prayed for the families of the fallen soldiers. I prayed for all the remaining soldiers. Most of all, though, I prayed that my son would come home safely. Caught up in my emotions I was oblivious to what others thought about me. Finally, I did pull myself together and was able to join my family and enjoy the rest of our outing.As I made my Shabbat preparations the following day I had no expectations to see my soldier boy, but mid-afternoon I called and he told me he was on the way home. We were excited and my father was amazed that I had had the nerve to call the commanding officer. They did not do things that way in the American army.
It was good having the whole family together. Saturday night my son made a phone call to the base and was told to come back as early as possible Sunday morning. There are many wonderful things about living in Shilo, the center of the country, but having good rides to the Negev is not one of them. Our son decided he would get a ride to Elkana where a good friend lived and where there would be plenty of rides Sunday morning.This good friend thought that his neighbor, a girl who had worked with him in the youth group, would be a perfect match for our son. For months he had had been wanting to introduce the two of them but it had not worked out. This particular Saturday night it finally did. Our son felt like he had been hit by lightening. Three months later they were engaged, and they were married in November.
Our sages teach that no prayer is ever wasted and that the Gates of Heaven are never closed to tears. However the tears need to be tears of hope, trust and faith in HaShem, not tears of despair. Could it be that those tears I cried at the Kotel on that Thursday paved the way for my son to meet his wife two days later? Looking at me did others see a miserable, Orthodox women or a sensitive, caring mother? Maybe all those weeping women at the Kotel know a lot more about life than the jaded journalist.
Shiva: seven days of mourning