The Walls of History

Yoni A. Dahlen
October 11, 2013
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It is taught that one should always carry two notes in two different pockets.  One note should read, “for my sake was the world created.”  The other should read, “I am but dust and ashes.”  The great Rabbi of Peshischa, Simcha Bunim stressed the importance of this message to his followers.  While the hassidim adhered to his words, delighting in the beauty of life and simultaneously acknowledging the inevitability of death, the notes in their pockets were left to the soil of Poland, swallowed by the Pale of Settlement.


It is taught that writing in a private space, going over the letters with freedom and grace, can unite the sparks of the divine.  Through combinations of words and letters, thoughts and confessions, the sacred greets the profane and the ineffable dwells in the lowliest of places.  In Amsterdam, a young girl scribbled her dreams and her fears.  Her pen bled lines of love and hope.  In the darkness of a Dutch apartment, her notes were left without the love of their writer, buried in the dust of malice and hate.


It is taught that when 600,000 Jews are gathered together in one place, one should say the following blessing: “Baruch atah HaShem, elokeinu melech ha’olam, chacham ha’razim - blessed are you HaShem, our Lord, king of the universe, knower of secrets.” When hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews were trapped behind the Iron Curtain, the world was speechless.  Neither blessing nor curse emerged from the frozen lips of international leaders. The letters of mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, lovers and friends piled up in the halls of government buildings, never to be read.  Their pleas took years to find voices, and the story of their struggle continues to lie under suppression and apathy.


Judaism relies on division and separation.  Shabbat is separated from the profanity of any normal day, Havdallah creates a division from the sanctity of the day to the resuming of the week. The laws of niddah, kashrut, eruvin, all of these fountains of Jewish tradition pour forth from the wells of separation.  And yet, our sages of blessed memory knew that true holiness requires separation to be transient, that the world exists in a balance of division and reunion.


The curtains of history have choked and tethered, blinded and disoriented.  They have created allegiances of fear and alienated the helpless.  Some curtains were erected for the sake of preservation.  Others were stapled to the foreheads of stubborn despots.  Regardless of their intention, the results were parallel.  On both sides of the curtains of history, there never ceased to be longing, a yearning for the reunion that balances the holiness of justice and peace.


Twice a year, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch and the employees of the kotel remove the notes tucked into the wall’s ancient crevices.  After they have been gathered, the notes are buried on the Mount of Olives, accredited the respect of a holy burial.  Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, Jew and non Jew alike, come to Jerusalem and write the thoughts of their hearts into the walls of history.  Some pray for themselves, some pray for others, but all pray with longing for that which they cannot touch, that which lies beyond.


This very place has become a contention of authority and, unfortunately, a curtain of prejudice and ambivalence.  This is not my time to wax political.  This is merely a note in  a wall.  History has given us plenty of curtains, and the notes of our mothers and fathers have been buried and trampled.  They have not been laid to rest overlooking Jerusalem.  They never had the opportunity.


The Wall is a symbol for the destruction of walls.  It’s presence is one of unity and hope, not division and hate.  The Wall is a substitute for all walls, those which have kept us safe, and those which have needlessly cut us down.  Let us remember, as we approach Rosh Chodesh, that each of us walks with notes of longing hanging from our souls, that we acknowledge division only as a precursor to the promise of redemption.


It is taught that one should always carry two notes in two different pockets.  One note should read, “for my sake was the world created.”  The other should read, “I am but dust and ashes.”  May it be with longing and hope that we always hold onto these notes, so that one day we may insert them into the crevices of history’s curtains, and as our notes pile up, one upon the other, the weight of our yearning will topple the walls of hate.


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Yoni A. Dahlen is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City. He attended Brandeis University where he received a Masters of Arts in Jewish Philosophy. Pursuing a career in academia, his topics of interest include Jewish mysticism, political theology, and the religiosity of Labor Zionism. He currently lives in Jerusalem.

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