Imagine really being there. Under the mountain, hearing the VoIce. Feeling like you and the other people around you are part of one body. It isn’t an easy image to conjure up. Is reality so different today than it was then? Maybe it’s that the outside world feels so loud and so present. Even picturing the absolute quiet that your great-greats heard is far from your experience or mine.
Some people live with those moments.
One of my favorite Oldies But Goodies passed away. Her funeral was yesterday. I kept thinking that she was one of the rare people who from my vantage point really lived under the mountain, feeling absolutely included and inclusive of the rest of us.
Her name was Chana Shofnes.
When she came to Neve over thirty years ago she was already able to respond to whatever Hashem wanted of her as though she heard Him address himself to her personally. She had polio as a child, and as a result she walked with crutches. She was a slender redhead, always focused and cheerful, and always wearing what was the uniform of the times, jeans and a shirt. She learned more about what being a woman is about in Jewish law. The tznius laws are rarely a favorite, but she embraced the laws with the same mixture of taking orders from the Boss, and being in love with the Boss that was her unspoken motto. There was one thing that made it painfully hard. Under her jeans were steel braces. They marked her as one of a minority group, the disabled. When she was sitting down in jeans, she looked exactly like everyone else. Once she had a skirt on there was no possibility for even momentary invisibility. She did it. Almost as a direct repayment (not that anyone sees the entire picture from here), she found her shidduch easily. When her future husband described the kind of woman he wanted, idealistic but practical, fun but sincere and serious, grounded but creative, it sounded at first like Mission Impossible. Then I thought of Chana. As soon as I told him about her, he wanted to meet her. The braces and crutches didn’t take up much of his inner space.
I saw her at irregular intervals over the years, and spoke to her on the phone relatively frequently. Her consistent refrain in our conversations wasn’t “What does Hashem want of me, why is my life so hard”, but “What does Hashem want of me, how can I serve Him better”. She had no need or desire to justify Him. She wanted to validate the fact that He had given her life, brought her to Torah, made her the mother of children. When she asked me to study Rav Moshe Cordovero’s Tomer Dvorah on the phone, I was somewhat surprised. It’s not a light read, and the place that it takes you to is very spiritually demanding. This was exactly what she wanted. She wanted to meet those demands. She wanted to see other people with a touch of the compassion that Hashem mirrors to us when He made us in His image.
Like everyone, she periodically encountered people who committed the little acts of emotional insensitivity... She didn’t pretend to enjoy being ignored or patronized, but she wanted to move further than that. She didn’t sit in judgment on the people who related to her in this way. After all, they were on her team, the team called The Jews, and she wanted to recognize this with greater sincerity and intensity.
Her early life may have toughened her and ultimately given her the emotional resources to deal with both pain and what many other people would have described as betrayal. When she was a child the therapeutic community believed that children with polio have to be in a hospital like environment, and to separate from their parents as possible in order to devote themselves fully to their rehab programs. They had no way of grasping how much a child longs for mommy, or how torn between love and duty the mothers were. Somehow she accepted herself and others, which to me is a Herculean feat.
Tonight is Yom Yerushalaim. That means that it is the anniversary of the reunification of Yerushalaim that took place during the 6 day war. When I first came to Israel, if you wanted to see the Old City, you could go to the roof of the King David. You really couldn’t see much, but the longing to see something beyond the range of your vision made it possible to convince yourself that you did. My first encounter with the Kotel was something like being under the mountain, hearing the Voice, and being totally one with all of the indescribable variety of fellow Jews who were there. When people ask me what I do on Yom Yerushalaim, I usually don’t have much of an answer. The wonder is there, and the praise. This year, I want to do something different. I want to have the matter of fact relationship to being at the Mountain and hearing the Voice that Chana had. Less trimming and more substance. More ability to see the Wholeness of things, which is what Yerushalaim really means.
A place that is whole
The Kotel is decorated with the countless shades of the prisms
Of its gems
Fragmented and whole simultaneously
In its shadow.