Why do visitors to the Kotel write prayers and place them in the crevices and cracks of the ancient stones? The practice doesn’t come from the Torah, from the Talmud, or from scholars like Rashi or Maimonides. Truly, there is no ancient or even medieval reason for why we do this practice. The tale goes that a rabbi in 18th century Jerusalem directed a man to place a prayer in the Western Wall so that the man’s prayer might be heard by God. From there, the practice spread and has become an act of deep conversation with God that everyone from heads of state to everyday Jerusalemites do to speak with the Power of All.
Why the Western Wall? Why Jerusalem? Why not Hebron, or Warsaw, or Crown Heights?
After the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, many Israelites believed God had abandoned Jacob’s descendants. Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman said that once the Temple was destroyed, God no longer resided in Jerusalem but returned to the heavens. Rabbi Elazar said that even though the Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem remains a holy place and God’s presence has never left. And because the Western Wall survived the destruction, Rabbi Acha said that certainly God has never left this place.*
The story deepens when we bring in the midrash of Jacob and God’s connection to the site of the Holy Temple. So our story goes, Jacob wrestled with an angel in the very place the Temple was constructed. Jacob called this place the very house of God, and the midrash tells us that anyone who prays in God’s house, that is Jerusalem, it is as if this person has spoken directly with God.**
True, God can be found anywhere. Prayer can take place anywhere (except the bathroom). But no space is more precious to God than Jerusalem, and no place in Jerusalem more holy than The Temple. To physically add your prayers to the structure that once supported God’s physical house is to enter your prayer directly to Heaven’s Gate.
Send us with your prayers.
On June 17th your rabbis will be in Jerusalem for Shabbat. We will visit the Kotel and we will add our prayers to the beautiful stones. If you have a prayer you want us to place in the Kotel, please write it down and drop it off at TE by June 10th, or email us your prayer and we will make sure it gets to the Wall.
Rabbi Max Miller
*Exodus Rabbah 2:2
**Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer 35:7–8