One of the fundamental lessons that Judaism has taught the world is the concept of holiness -- the ability to strengthen ourselves to raise our physical and spiritual awareness beyond our normal limitations and connect with a Higher Reality.
Time can be holy, and place can be holy. Yom Kippur, for example, is a holy point in time, a chance to review our lives and start anew. Shabbos, in its own special way, is also a special island in time, distinct from the weekdays before and after it.
The Kotel, on the other hand, embodies holiness of place. Here, for some reason, we are able to open ourselves up to G-d in special ways. Suddenly, we find ourselves rushing to put a note in the Wall, hoping to reach out to our Creator.
This place in the Tunnels is also like that, only we are that much closer to the most holy spot on earth, the one place where all the gates of prayer were open. In our time, the passage to that place has been covered over. But the power of the connection remains.
You may notice that the stone in the middle of the archway is moist. It is almost as if G-d softly weeps in sympathy with those who pray in this place.
Standing here you may sense that you are close to Someone Who is listening and Who cares. How fortunate we are to be able to come here once again.
Feel free to take some time to say a silent prayer. Let youself be present for the quiet beauty and holiness of this place. Know that your prayers will echo with the prayers of all those who have passed this way before. You are following in the footsteps of an ancient yet eternal people.
The time grows long and we must continue. Before we go, you may be wondering about the custom on placing a note in the cracks of the Western Wall, a custom beginning with the story of Rav Chaim David Azulai, the Chida.
Rabbi Azulai was a Sephardic Rabbi, originally from Morocco. When he was a young man, he left his teacher, the master Kabbalist, the Ohr HaChaim. The teacher said: "Since you're going to the Land of Israel, I'm going to give you a little note. I want you to put that note into the Western Wall."
In those days, when they would travel, they would not carry things like valises as much as we would today. Something that's really important, in order not to lose it, they would actually sew it into their clothing. That's exactly what he did -- he took this note and sewed it into his jacket.
Surely enough, when he got into Eretz Yisrael, he forgot about the note. It just slipped his mind. He got involved in his life, and for a long period of time, things weren't going so great. He was new here -- you know the old expression, "Everyone's uncle here in Jerusalem is a rabbi -- we don't need another rabbi." It's not an easy profession here in Jerusalem.
So he was having a hard time. But then when he was down, he realized that he forgot about his teacher's note! He went to that old jacket of his, he opened it up, and he found the note. He took the note, and he brought it down to the Western Wall, and put it into the wall.
The next day, he was sitting in the Beit Midrash, in the synagogue, and someone came over to him and asked him a question in Jewish law. It happened to be the particular part he was reading that day. He knew the answer on the spot. A series of events happened which seemed like luck, but it's too coincidental to think that it's just by chance. His fortune, his situation, changed, and soon he was recognized for who he really was -- a great scholar and saint. Until then, he hadn't been the kind to push himself forward, and he never got the recognition he really deserved.
The rabbi of the community noticed the change, and he said: "Something's really strange here. Up until now, I happened to admire this Rabbi Azulai, but it just seems strange that all of a sudden his fortune changed." So he came over to him and he asked him, "Come on, tell me -- what happened? Was there anything that happened that changed your fortune? Did you do anything spectacular? Anything special?" Rabbi Azulai said, "Nothing really."
He kept hammering on, and pressuring him, so finally Rav Azulai said, "Yes, actually, my teacher gave me this note to put into the Wall, and I recently placed this note into the Wall."
So the Rabbi of the community begged him to go down to the Western wall and see what the note said, because he knew the note was from his teacher. Rav Azulai said, "Okay, fine. We'll go down and take a look." So they looked and found the note, and opened it, and it said: "Dear God, please let my student, Azulai, become successful in Israel."
That's the story according to our tradition. The idea is not that we're praying to the Wall, and not that there's any sort of superstition, but rather because it's so clear that there's a Divine Presence here, that even writing a prayer on a piece of paper is like praying. It's like a continual prayer for that particular person, for that particular need.
Then, as we continue, we will soon come upon a long, narrow passage...