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Re'eh 5782 ~ August 26, 2022

Have you ever wondered what happens to the notes that people place in the kotel, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem? People come from all over the world to observe the mitzvah of visiting Jerusalem, not only on the pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot) that our Torah reading for this Shabbat, Parashat Re’eh, instructs us to observe, but most of the year.

As a student in Rabbinical School, I remember all too well the season when the visitors stopped coming and when they returned en masse. All one had to do back then was look for the white shoes and you knew it was tourist season. But today everything is quite different. Israel is one of the destination places for pilgrims throughout the year and white shoes are not the sign of a tourist. Whenever one can travel to Jerusalem, one feels blessed. And as we all know, thousands upon thousands of notes are placed in the wall each month.

I recently saw a video, and at first I was very shocked by it. It seems that twice a year there is a crew that takes wooden sticks and sweeps all of the notes out of the crevices. Once they hit the ground they are then swept together, gathered up and placed in a bin.  If one stops the video at that point, one might be offended. After all, those were prayers by individuals of many different faiths, mostly Jewish and Christian, who believe that God answers one’s prayers. Some of the notes are petitions to God; others are statements of regret and remorse; some are of hopes and dreams; and some are just statements of gratefulness. Many of us have heard stories of people who have glanced at a note and found that it was written by a long lost relative or friend, renewing hope for meeting once again. And then there are the last thoughts and prayers that loved ones bring for a recently departed relative.  It is understood that if all of the notes since 1967 would have been left in the kotel, the wall would be one of paper notes, rather than the beautiful hewn stones of the wall.

So, what happens to those notes? After doing a Google search, I learned that these notes are considered prayers. As such they are given the honor of a page of a siddur, or that of the page of a Torah. They are not just swept into a bin for discarding. They actually are buried in Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. None are ever opened or read by the crew. It is felt that the prayers are private prayers, not for anyone’s gaze but that of the heavenly abode.

This Shabbat we enter the month of Elul. It reminds us that Rosh Hashanah is precisely one month away. Imagine that, as you join us in services, hopefully in person, you have the opportunity to put your personal note into the virtual wall of the Western Wall.  What might your words say? What emotion or thought would you convey? What prayer would be most meaningful to include?

Hopefully, throughout the year, we find many moments to offer our prayers to God in whatever form they might be. As we prepare for the High Holy Days, perhaps we might want to reflect on one singular thought that we might want to put on a petek, that note to God, that we hope will either come true, provide us comfort or consolation, allow us to work through a moment of remorse or guilt, or simply offer our words of praise and thanksgiving.

May we use this month wisely, as our Torah reading reminds us, to re’eh, not only to look at, as the Hebrew implies, but to seek a most meaningful thought to put into our virtual kotel within our own minds that will be looked at by Hashem. Hopefully, if we actually spend time reflecting, our High Holy Days will provide us with the meaningfulness of what they are all about.

Shabbat shalom.


Sat, April 1 2023 10 Nisan 5783