A person’s first trip to the Western Wall in Jerusalem is an unforgettable thing. In order to get to the wall, one must wind through alleys and alleys of shops filled with trinkets, wares, and treats. Shopkeepers watch the corridors like hawks, doing all they can think of to lure tourists into their spaces. The walk from Damascus Gate to the Wailing Wall is an experience in and of itself, but once one has passed through the actual entrance to the plaza where the wall stands, it is an all-encompassing feeling of awe. The bustle and energy of the people giving way to some sort of electricity is an actual current in the air. Descending down the stairs to the main square, one’s eyes see not just the crowds, and the square, but as a backdrop to the wall one sees the minaret lit up in green, a glorious symbol of Islam.
Approaching the walkway from the plaza towards the wall one encounters stone sinks with several spigots and plastic watering containers. The point of this is to cleanse onself before approaching the wall. For me, this is when the experience really began.
I appreciate the earnestness and symbolism behind the ritual, but I did not make a stop at the sink. I knew I would be just as in need of cleansing after scrubbing myself with water as I was before scrubbing myself with water. God’s message to me was, “There is nothing you can do to be clean before Me apart from letting Me cleanse you. That is what the cross already did for you. Nothing else can bridge any gap between us.” God desires us to come to Him as we are. Jesus gave us His forgiveness and the only true source of cleansing, and it is freely given to us if we accept it.
Approaching the wall, one witnesses first-hand exactly why it is sometimes referred to as the Wailing Wall. The fervent prayers of so many accentuated by rocking and reciting, but mostly by such weeping, even sobbing, marks the name. So many tears from so deep inside of so many individuals makes an impression. The same reasons I did not feel the need to cleanse myself before approaching the wall are the same reasons I had no tear to shed. Albeit with great respect and awe, I approached the wall with a matching degree of excitement and expectancy. I can make my heart known to God from anywhere in the world at any time, but how awesome to have the opportunity to do so at the Western Wall in Jerusalem!
Word to the wise – the closer you get to the wall, expect it to be a challenge to actually get up to the wall. It’s sardines up there, and there’s about enough personal space for half of you. By “you”, I mean you.
Hand written prayers on my paper, I prayed at the wall and then struggled for a good two to three minutes to fight my paper into an already overstuffed crevice (of the wall). Any crevice. I tried several. I imagine that after so many rains a number of the papers disintegrate and it is not so difficult, but the real rainy season had not begun yet. I finally gave up and tossed my paper into an actual hole in the wall that was slowly collecting the hopes, dreams, and supplications of so many pilgrims.
Another custom of visiting the wall is to walk away from it backwards. It is said that it is simply disrespectful to turn your back on the wall. It is also said that walking away backwards is an act of not turning your back on your prayers to God. The only true way to turn your back on your prayers to God is to turn your heart away from God. Again, I appreciate the earnestness and symbolism involved, but God is no more or less apt to answer our prayers because of a physical act of walking backwards. There is no condemnation for us. If Jesus would tell the prostitute “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11) after a lifestyle that is hardly comparable to not walking backwards away from the wall, then surely He will not condemn someone for not walking backwards away from the wall.
I love to participate in cultural traditions, and it is very sensitive in a land like Israel where cultural traditions are often inseparable from being religious identity. That Christ died on the cross for me wipes out any place or need for my works and deeds. God does not need my works and deeds. His power as God does not spring from my human actions. Seeing the traditions being carried out in front of me was still enchanting and I was still partaking in them even though I did not physically contribute. Understanding these traditions and also understanding life under God’s grace is what really made this experience for me. For this reason is it so awesome and exciting to go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem – I am in complete freedom to approach God and partake of a once in a lifetime experience in the Holy Land, acceptable to God, just as I am.
Emmy Boyce is a graduate student in Israel and blogs regularly for Travelujah-Holy Land tours.
*For more information about booking an individual or group pilgrimage please contact us.