By Cheryl Birkner Mack
What’s so important about the place where we pray? For more than 21 years, Women of the Wall have been making the claim that they have a place at the Kotel. Not at the front of the plaza, not in the men’s section, but at the back of the women’s section. When we were a small group, you could walk by us without noticing us, but of course, now with all the support we’ve received since Nofrat’s arrest, our place is bigger.
We battled in court to get the right to daven at the Kotel according to our custom–which for some of us means davening with talit
and tefilin, and for all of us means with wonderful, joyous voices singing, praying and reading Torah together.
We were offered Robinson’s Arch as the place for our tefila. Robinson’s Arch is beautiful and historic and a wonderful place for davening. So why aren’t we satisfied?
Because for thousands of years the כותל המערבי של בית המקדש (Holy Temple’s Western Wall)
has been the the place of Kedusha (holiness) for our ancestors and our contemporaries. Many people say “the Haredim have taken over the Kotel. Let them have it.” But we say, “It’s not theirs! It’s ours–all of the Jewish people’s!”
In the parsha we read this week VaYetze, Yaakov comes to a place as he flees from his family. What place is that? Rashi says this can only refer to Har Moriah–הר הבית and later, Yaakov dreams of angels ascending and descending the ladder to heaven. When he wakes up Yaakov says
אכן יש ה’ במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי וירא ויאמר מה נורא המקום הזה
God is in this place and I didn’t know it.
He was awestruck and said “How awesome is this place!”
אין זה כי אם בית אלוקים וזה שער השמים
This is none other than the House of God and this is the gate of Heaven.
In the Talmud, it states that when Yaakov travelled towards Haran and arrived there, Yaakov said “Maybe I have passed the place where my ancestors prayed and I didn’t pray there. The place is הר המוריה (Har Hamoria) where Avraham prayed.
והוא השדה שהתפלל בו יצחק the field where Yitzhak prayed.
Yaakov saw value in praying in the place where his ancestors prayed, as do we.
Elsewhere in the Gemara it mentions that one who prays on Rosh Hodesh is privileged to see the Shekhina, the divine image of God. But I must tell you that when I daven on Rosh Hodesh at home or even a synagogue I don’t always feel that presence, but when I pray in this place I am often privileged to experience God’s presence.
So with your support we will continue to pray in this place where our ancestors prayed and we will one day pray here with our talitot and tefilin and our sefer Torah.