The driver told me that he eventually discovered that the wall was the Kotel, and he learned what it was and what it represented
As told to Margie Pensak by Dr. Michael Elman
he driver who took me from the Old City to Har Nof when I was visiting Israel in 2001 seemed typical for his kind — a Sabra who grew up outside of Yerushalayim in a secular home, knowing very little about Yiddishkeit. But he had an astonishing story — and a unique question.
He told me that he fought in the Six Day War, and was part of the group of soldiers that liberated the Old City. “As I ran through the narrow passageways, I was separated from the others,” he told me. “Suddenly, I found myself alone near a massive wall. I had never seen anything like it and I had no idea what it was.”
He described experiencing intense emotion. “I didn’t understand what that feeling was. It was a powerful force, pulling at me. I was frozen, I couldn’t move. I started to cry uncontrollably.”
When the others in his group caught up with him, they thought he was wounded, maybe even dying.
“They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I was totally unresponsive.”
The driver told me that he eventually discovered that the wall was the Kotel, and he learned what it was and what it represented. “But ad hayom,” he said, “until today, I still don’t understand that feeling I experienced.”
I thought I knew what it was.
“What you were feeling was the presence of the Shechinah,” I told him, “G-d’s Presence on earth. Even though the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed 2,000 years ago, the Shechinah has never left that place.”
I explained to him that when the Jews are in exile, the Shechinah is in exile, too. “We mourn the loss of our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and Hashem mourns the loss of His relationship with His children, who have become distant. You were the first Jew in 19 years to step foot at the Kotel,” I continued.
“Imagine if you had been separated from your father for 19 years, what a crushing hug your father would greet you with. That’s what you felt. G-d was giving you a hug for the Jewish People. You felt the Shechinah.”
An extraordinary question, and an incredible experience, from a people who have a unique relationship with G-d.
Michael J. Elman, MD, is a retinal surgeon and Jewish community leader. He splits his time between Jerusalem and Baltimore.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 830)
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