A few years ago my grandfather passed away right before the 17th of Tammuz. On the fast day I was helping my mother as she sat shiva and an old family friend offered me a drink.
"No thanks, I'm fasting." I said.
"What are you fasting for?" he asked. So I explained that it was the 17th of Tammuz, and we were mourning the day that the walls of Jerusalem were breached before the Second Temple was destroyed.
"I never heard of this fast day. But you know what's even sadder? Last year my wife and I visited Israel for the first time. We went on a tour of the Old City and the tour guide points out the Temple Mount. And all we could see was this huge mosque and then the tour guide points out the Western Wall. And I couldn't believe it. That's it? That's all that's left of the Temple? One wall? So I think I know why there's a fast. There's so little we have left."
He put down his own drink and stared out the window into the withering summer day. And I thought about his words for days afterwards: That's it? That's all that's left? One wall?
After the shiva ended, I went one morning to a beach I used to go to when I was little. The sun had just risen, and the ocean looked like it was on fire. I stood for a while on the shore, listening to the furious crashing of the waves. And suddenly I longed to jump into the water like I used to, even though I hadn't planned on swimming. First I just waded into the water until my knees and then I saw that familiar opening beneath a huge wave. I dove underneath its crest towards the next wave. And the next. Until an enormous wave caught me and churned me towards land.
I picked myself up, my clothes covered in sand, and salt water dripping down my face. And I stood there crying without warning. Is this all that's left? Show me something real, something whole. Fill the gap. Take away this aching loss. Help me find myself. Give me back my life.
The only answer was silence. Lonely, exhausted silence punctuated only by the fiery ocean crashing and retreating before me.
It took me some time to realize that the silence itself was a gift. That I wasn't supposed to find myself; I was meant to create myself. That it was up to me to build something real and whole. To look at the gap and see how I could help fill it.
Last night, my son, who is named after my grandfather, was standing with me on the deck.
"Why is the world so big?" he asked me as we gazed up at the towering trees and the endless stretch of star-studded sky.
"I don't know," I answered. "Maybe because we need room to grow."
And as the fireflies began to light up the dark corners of the yard, I thought that it must be true. The darkness is here for us to create light. The brokenness is here for us to learn how to make ourselves whole. And the Western Wall – all that's left – is so much more than just a remnant of our past. It's there to remind us to rebuild. It's there to hold our crumpled notes and dreams. It's a gift. Like the gap between the waves that pulled me in and brought me back to shore. Like the saltwater that poured down my face and the sand that blurred my eyes. Like the silence that gives us a chance to find our own words. Like the hugeness of the world that makes room for us to grow. Like the man who put down his drink and said. “I think I know why there's a fast.” There's a gap. In our hearts. In the crevices of the Wall.
But the gap is the gift. And all that's left is the extraordinary opportunity to fill it.