I went back to calling you all friends, whether or not you are students, old friends or new ones, or people who I just learned recently (no, that wasn’t a typo. Learning people is the best kind of learning that there is).
I was at the Kotel last night. It was Tisha B’Av. The mood there changes quickly and radically at about 7:00. There were thousands of people who were there mourning, wishing that they could mourn. There were also a large contingent of people who feel deep connection to the place, the People, and want to find their moment of meaning at the Wall. The solemnity suddenly gave way to a feeling connection, unity, and love. A large circle formed holding with strangers from observably different points of departure holding hands and singing softly. More and more people streamed into the plaza. The time moved unbelievably quickly, and the singing gave way to saying maariv (the night prayers). Everyone was facing the Wall, and not facing each other any longer. Then it was over.
Everyone was headed home to break the fast. Except those who weren’t. There were suddenly significant numbers of people giving out food! Water bottles came out of nowhere, trays of cake, and rugelach. The people who were giving the food away (after others made Havdalah ) must have had the food with them all day. That means they thought about it before they headed to the Old City. That meant that they either took it with them on the bus or had it in their cars knowing that on a day like Tisha B’Av parking means a significant walk from your space till you are in the plaza. They wanted to end the fast by giving.
I was moved by these newly hatched friends of mine, who I may never see again and probably didn’t see before they offered me their food. Their outstretched hands taught me who they are.
Earlier in the day we read Kinnot, the poems of mourning that were written throughout the years. Names that meant so much now ring hollow. When was the last time that you thought about Wormza (Worms)? Our history is so strange. You find yourself detaching from the endless narrations of Life In Exile because it so much easier and so much more natural. When you talk about the holocaust subconsciously you find yourself relegating it to a dusty unpleasant attic. Names like Buchenwald send me to auto-delete. You are where your mind is, as the Baal Shem Tov would say, and who wants to be there?
Then every so often you remember that these people were real. Some of them were probably like the people who schlepped boxes of water bottles to the Kotel. A recurrent theme in the Kinnot is that the suffering (there! I wrote it. I was so sure that I wouldn’t go there. Everyone is so sick of suffering, talking about it and feeling it) touched the lives of people who never never dreamed that this would be the way their lives play out.
Another recurring theme is that the source of our 2000-year exile is senseless hatred. The only way to reverse it is to be less afraid of loving other Jewish people before they proved that they “deserve” it. If you dedicate your life to being comfortable, that will turn into Mission Impossible.
Loving people means being vulnerable, being adventurous, and being willing to shlepp bottles. It means being bigger than you are now. The enemy is fear. Fear of discomfort, fear of rejection, fear of feeling foolish. Being small, petty, and afraid is much much worse.
One rule helps. You can only look for G-dliness in other people if you have some sense of what the word means. One way to become more sensitive to this is tracking the times that you surprise yourself by going beyond your comfort level. The times that you reach out, the times that you give. It all comes down to seeing something real and enduring when you see other people. If you can see the soul, the body becomes more and more irrelevant. Think about when you didn’t stop because the other person is different, unappealing physically or just not your speed. Then move it up. Think of the times that you actually seek Hashem by doing mitzvos that don’t come your way easily. If you can see someone G-dly when you look in the mirror, it will be easier to see the same invisible markings when you see other people.