On the fourth day of Sukkot every year, there’s a special Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) at The Western Wall. This year, the fourth day was Sunday, and the blessing was set for 9:00am. I had not visited HaKotel (The Wall) yet, although Lori had gone one night with a few of our friends.
We got there bright and early, around 7:45, through Jaffa Gate and a maze of tiny downhill streets in the Jewish Quarter. The place was already starting to fill up – lots of people turn out for this blessing. We decided to go ahead and pray while we were there, instead of standing in the sun, waiting around.
I had already decided that one of the first things for which I’d pray when I got to The Wall would be Christine. She’s been suffering from really bad headaches for a while now, and it was weighing on my heart to specifically ask G-d for healing for her in Jerusalem. I had found the Prayer for the Sick in the back of my siddur, and, although it is typically meant for someone on the verge of death, G-d knows what’s going on.
So I pushed and elbowed my way through all the women, and started with Ahavat Olam (Eternal Love). I prayed through the Shacharit server (morning prayer service), and by the time I got to Tachanun (Putting Down the Head), I felt ready to pray for more specific prayers. With so many woman so closely packed together, it was a little hard to concentrate. But I got used to it, as I prayed.
I continued with the special prayer you’re supposed to say at The Wall. Then, when I was finally close enough to the actual wall to touch it – wow – I found the Prayer for the Sick. It begins with the 13 Attributes of G-d, found in Deuteronomy (although, you’re only supposed to say those when praying with a minyan (10 men)), and continues with several sentences praising G-d for His omnipotence and sovereignty.
And in Your Hand is the strength and the power to make great, to strengthen and to cure every man, even he who is crushed, crushed to the very depths of his soul.
When I got to that sentence, I really lost it. I haven’t cried in over a year and a half, but praying, from the bottom of my heart, for G-d’s mercy and healing in His Holy Land, at His Holy House, was overwhelming.
So that was the emotional part of the experience for me. Big news, since I am not an emotional person.
THEN, I started listening to the chazzan (the leader of the prayer service) on the loudspeaker. Incredibly enough, I was able to pick up bits and pieces of what he was saying, probably because I know the prayer service pretty well, and finally found where he was and started following along. Prayers are SO much easier to understand than conversation!
Finally, the big moment came – the one for which we’ve all been waiting: Birkhat HaKohenim (the Priestly Blessing)! Each word was sung very slowly, with the Ashkenazic pronunciation, and everyone assembled shouted it out after the cantor. At the end of each of the three lines, there was a thunderous noise as everyone fervently prayed, “Keyn y’hi ratzon! (So may it be!)”
How cool to be right there amidst it all. What an amazing first-time-at-the-wall experience!