An Awesome Place, Time and Soul at the Kotel

On a trip to Eretz Yisroel a few years ago, I had the good fortune to rent an apartment in Kfar David in Mamilla, very close to the Jaffa Gate. I davened almost every Tefillah at the Kotel, except for Shabbos when we were in Ramat Beis Shemesh.

Davening at the Kotel is amazing because it’s a Minyan factory and you get to join together with all types of Jews from the four corners of the world. However, I do find it distracting at Shacharis, between the people collecting Tzedakah and the simultaneous Minyanim going on at a somewhat loud volumne.

On my first Shacharis I went to the Vasikin minyan, which is at sunrise and is the best time to Daven according to the Shulchan Aruch. So here I was, at the best place-the Kotel, at the best time-sunrise, and with a great collection of Jewish souls from around the world. And to top it all off, since it was Vasikin every Minyan starts Shemoneh Esrai at the same time and the entire Kotel would be quiet together.

So I stepped into Shemoneh Esrai anticipating the sweet sound of silence, but unfortunately perfection was not to be found. There was one individual who was davening very loudly well into our Shemoneh Esrai. So there were 300 souls with the opportunity to join in Tefillah at the perfect time at the perfect place, but one person was out of step.

I decided to write three endings to this piece:

1) How does Hashem judge this situation. On the one hand the person was davening to Hashem in sincerity, but at the same time he was disturbing many other people in a situation where total quiet was a possibility.

2) I need to work more on my davening. If I really worked on it, I could daven anywhere without being distracted. Perhaps wanting or needing silence is really a deficiency in my davening.

3) We’re in Golus and even if we’re at the perfect place and the perfect time, it’s our souls that need correcting. That begins with me working on caring about this unknown individual as much before the Shemoneh Esrai as after. He’s a great Yid who made the same journey I did to daven at this awesome place and time. Even if he was mistaken in this one act, I make plenty of mistakes myself and I hope people judge me favorably.

So at the end of the day, maybe it was better that there was no silence. After all place, time and silence are external and davening is an internal act. And becoming a little more forgiving from this incident is probably more important than finding the perfect Place, Time and Soul at the Kotel.

Originally Published February 2010

26 comments on “An Awesome Place, Time and Soul at the Kotel

  1. The Rabbis of the Talmud placed much importance on absorption in prayer. It is one of the things for which a person reaps benefits in this world and retains principal for the world to come. Therefore, even a private person praying at the kotel should be given his or her daled amos (four cubits) of personal space.

  2. Unfotunately, one can see the same collectors go from shul to shul and engage in collecting Tzedaka during such portions of Tefilah in which it is highly problematic to respond to anyone such as Krias Shema, Chaaras HaShatz,etc, as if the Tefilos being offered simply don’t count or matter. It is ironic that many of us who have shopped or made Simchos in Charedi neighborhoods would never think of walking around the shieblach during davening and stores in those locales and ask for help with our communal and individual needs, nor really expect a favorable response for many Mosdos Tzedakos. nor walk into a Simcha and shnor to help make a simcha. Many of us have who have made simchos simply tell the caterer to deal with the shnorers.

  3. Judy, no offense taken. Your points are all valid and others did point out the “judge people favorably” aspect. There are three different standards for judging people favorably depending on whether they are classified as rasha (wicked), beinoni (average) or tzaddik (righteous). In this case I did not know the person so I would assume we would put him in the class of beinoni. There is some great source material on this and other middos matters here.

    In regard to disturbing others during davening there are halachos, but we’re all works in progress and we all have our problem areas.

    Many shuls have successfully dealt with the tzedakah collectors and when mutual respect and recognition of the halacha is established both the daveners and the collectors can be accomodated.

    The Kosel is a different story because it’s not really a Shul, but rather a public place with a group of concurrent minyanim, so it’s harder to establish and enforce rules. Both collecting tzedakah there is allowed (despite the sign, which is clearly not enforced) as well as the right to start a minyan and daven at any time. The question is that when it is possible to daven Shemoneh Esrai quietly together (at Vasikin), what is the obligation on each minyan to conform.

  4. I beg your pardon, Mark. I wasn’t there, so it actually is pretty presumptuous of me to lecture you on your reaction when I didn’t experience it personally. Bearing in mind the Chofetz Chaim’s famous ruling that it’s possible to say Loshon Hara about oneself, I will not call myself a “know-it-all” for freely rendering an opinion on something I know nothing about.

    I do sympathize with the fact that men are trying very hard to concentrate on their tefillos, and that the loud daveners, out of sync daveners and tzedakah collectors are incredibly disturbing. Whether it’s the Kotel Vasikin minyan or the last maariv at the neighborhood shul, I suppose that some kind of rules have to be in place so that the kehillah can have proper kavanah. Asking the tzedakah collectors to show some common courtesy to the daveners and wait until the end, in return for being allowed to collect in the shul, is only fair.

  5. Good points Judy. In this particular case, it wasn’t a screaming out type of davening, just somebody out of sync.

  6. I just want to mention something along the lines of “Dan L’chaf Zechus.” Perhaps this fellow with the loud davening was really hurting for some reason that you and I do not know? If, G-d forbid, you or I should have some reason to cry out in pain to Heaven, to beg with all our hearts for Divine Mercy, wouldn’t we be loud too? Wouldn’t others be disturbed by our wailing and weeping?

    Something to think about….I read about a non-Jew, a New York State legislator, who took it upon himself to only eat what food stamps provided for a month, nothing more. He wanted to really understand what people subsisting only on food stamps have to go through. This particular individual found himself pouring leftover sauce back into the jar, so he would have it the next day.

    I also vividly remember seeing a non-Jewish woman at the grocery store trying to buy four cans of broth and being told that she couldn’t because her food stamps EBT card was empty. I was haunted by the thought that maybe that woman was going to go hungry the rest of the month.

    These thoughts are just to bring into mind that maybe we should put ourselves into the place of that loud disruptive davener. When someone really hurts he screams OUCH as loud as he can and doesn’t care who he disturbs.

    One more story…from Rabbi Krohn’s “Maggid” series. A Jerusalem rav watched as a bunch of young Jewish children were playing. One of the children fell down and cut himself badly, needing stitches. The rav grabbed the young child, tied a makeshift bandage to stop the bleeding, and ran with the little boy to get him over to a clinic. An older woman saw the rav running with a bandaged child and assumed it was the rav’s grandson. “Don’t worry,” she called out smiling, “the child will be all right.” All of a sudden, she saw the child and realized it was her own grandson. Her smile stopped and she started yelling, “My Meir’l! My Meir’l!” at the top of her lungs.

    Rabbi Krohn made a point with that story. When it’s someone else’s problem, we smile and say, “Everything will be OK,” and actually get annoyed when people kvetch too loudly. But when it’s our problem, when it’s “My Meir’l” who’s been hurt, suddenly we’re screaming our lungs out.

    Forgive the mixed metaphors in this posting. Your English professors would give me a “C-minus” grade. I simply wanted to point out that we should really feel this person’s acute pain; something really hurts him and he’s crying out to G-d Alm-ghty to make the pain stop. If WE were the ones hurting, we’d scream too.

  7. I’m assuming you’re following the lead of your Rebbeim on this one and I’m surprised that they even let tzedakah collectors in the Shul given your position.

    In some Shuls the tzedakah collectors are only allowed to go to the Rav.

    In our Shul, we let them in and they usually don’t disturb between Boruchu and Shemoneh Esrai. Although I sometimes get annoyed on the occasions that I am disturbed, overall I am grateful that I have the opportunity to create a connection to another person for the price of a quarter.

    Over time a bond is formed and when I run into one of collectors in Brooklyn we often greet each other with a big smile and handshake.

    At the Kotel there is a Chickens For Shabbos collector who was cheerful, funny and filled with Torah vorts in his appeal and it was a pleasure meeting, supporting his cause, and connecting to him.

    As Rabbi Akiva told Turnus Rufus in the Gemora, giving to another person benefits the giver more than the receiver.

  8. In the “judge favorably” category:

    In a particular neighborhood I will not name (not the one I currently live in) there was one tzedakah collector whom I would often see when I visited there on a weekday. He wasn’t any more or less aggressive than the other tzedakah collectors, but never harassed people in a beit knesset while davening.

    One night I happened to daven at the last minyan in that neighborhood. The guy was outside asking for tzedakah as I walked in. I think I gave him a buck. I happened to tarry as I left shul and I saw the guy walk into the beit knesset — and give a big wad of bills to the gabbai! He wasn’t collecting for himself!!!

  9. I don’t give to beggars who are violating halachah or secular law. Thus, no tzedakah to the guys who walk into the beit knesset during the service and disrupt things. No tzedakah to anyone on the subway (it is illegal for even a legit charity to solicity there). And no tzedakah to the beggars at the kotel as long as the “no begging” signs are there.

  10. Rav Aviner’s psak on Tzedakah collectors is very extreme compared to that held by poskim in America.

    If you are being strict and careful with your Maaser money and you only are giving the absolute minimum or you are accepting Tzedakah yourself, then I would agree that you shouldn’t give at the Kotel.

    But if that’s not the case, then from my understanding you should at least give a little on occasion so as not to harden your heart to the possible needs of others.

    In the words of one American Gadol, there’s chesed and emes and if you always want to be 100% sure about the emes, you’ll never do the chesed.

  11. I thought that the following analogy may be helpfu. When we prepare for any YT and even for Shabbos, it is critical via Talmud Torah that we gain some appreciation of the uniqueness of the day, IOW what the Halacha calls Kedushas HaYom. Sometimes, even all of the preparation in the world leaves us wondering whether we achieved anything. I think that when we learn about the Beis HaMikdash, whether in Tanach or in Halacha, somehow we don’t apppreciate the real Kedushas HaMikdash when we are davening at the Kotel and we feel an absence of kavanah and too many shnorrers in our faces.

  12. Menachem, while your link is very interesting, it does notdiscuss the issue of collecting tzedakah during tefillah at the kotel. It is a more general opinion about scrutinizing the veracity of those collecting tzedakah.

  13. I was in awe of the Kotel, but I did not find it a great place to daven. The tzedakah collectors are the boldest I’ve ever seen anywhere, even interrupting the shliach tzibbur during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. The signs forbidding this are ignored. It says something about our priorities when Women at the Wall get arrested while these folks continue to harass people who just want to pray.

  14. Mark-excellent point. for which I don’t have an answer, but rather an observation that R Nevenzal made that while the level of Kedusha at the Kotel is unsurpassed, far too many of us don’t take it seriously enough. I liked davening Maariv at the Kotel, especially before we left, but one can also encounter a sense of great Kedushah, albeit not the same as the Kotel, at Meoras HaMachpelah and Kever Rachel. I tried to prepare for Tefilah at the Kotel by learning some of the Halachos in Hilcos Beis HaBechirah or the Sefer HaMitzvos of the Rambam, both of which are in the huge library in the Kotel Katan.

  15. Menachem, interesting idea about the Kotel being a Shul, but I would be surprised if it qualifies halachically.

    I agree with point 3, but perhaps not appreciating someone’s behavior is a judgment of sorts.

    The week I was in Israel, I davened Vasikin 5 times and the event in the post happened on the first day. It was quieter on the other days, but I think there were always some timing problems.

    I actually took a short video of the regular loud davener, who was quiet during Shemoneh Esrai, because by the end of the week I was enjoying and inspired by his fervor.

    I spent a lot of time at the Kotel, both davening and learning and I would do it again despite the distractions.

  16. Nice piece Mark,

    I was just at the Kotel for Vatikin on Friday. I don’t daven at the Kotel all that often because I find the experience very distracting, beautiful, but distracting. I go for Vaitikin a couple of times a year, usually because a friend drags me. One thing I do love is how that din of tumult instantly turns to a hush at sunrise. (Though Friday a sefardi minyan must have had their clock off or something.) Even this loud lone davener, maybe the same one you heard didn’t detract to much from the “moment”.

    I’d like to respond to your 3 endings:

    1) There’s halacha of how to behave in “shul” and how to daven the Amida. I’ve had the z’chus of davening with some pretty heavy hitters in the Torah world and none behaved like this fellow. So whether he’s a mekubal (whatever that is) or not he has to follow halacha.

    2) Actually you can’t daven anywhere without being distracted. That’s why there are also laws about where and under what circumstances you should daven.

    3)Caring about someone, not judging them and yet not appreciating their behavior are not mutually exclusive.

    All that said, every shul has certain things that are unique to it. The “members” decide what is the norm for that shul. Though the Kotel is, of course, a shul for all of us there are also regular mispalelim who make up its core. If this guy is a regular and accepted feature of the “shul” that is the Kotel then you and I need to show more tolerance as we would if we were guests in any other shul.

  17. Well I did check whether the act was improper and the Rav I asked said that davening out loud and disturbing others at the time of Vasikin at the Kosel was certainly insensitive. Whether it is actually an aveira is a different question given that the Kosel is a public loud place normally.

    The last time I checked, mekubalim also need to follow the halacha and be sensitive.

    I want to repeat that it definitely wasn’t that fellow in this situation.

  18. d.a. – I did not actually see who it was, but it was not the usual loud davener who was there every morning and did daven quietly with everybody else during Shemoneh Esrai.

  19. If I am not mistaken, the loud davener is a huge tzaddik. He is there every morning.
    So, if we are talking about the same person, he is a mekubal who has written many sefarim, that is in a self-imposed exile. His tefillos are loud and irritating but if you listen closely this is a broken heart davening because in galus there is no perfect place.

    So a question: if this information is true, does it change your perspective?

    Personally, I would not call his actions a mistake, he is clearly on a much higher level than me. You may answer that even gedolim make mistakes but I think that side-steps the issue. Sometimes what we see as a mistake is not a one at all.

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