My brother, Harav Meir Kahana ob"m, once described [some] emotional, moving scenes in a great essay entitled "Goodbye Wall" in Tishrei 5738 – September 1977, as follows:
They come in all sizes and shapes, complexions and complexes, in fusion and confusion, from East and West and North and South. They are Jews; they are tourists; they come to see it. The Wall.
They come with beards and kaftan – direct from Williamsburg; they come with Rabbinical Council mustaches, from Flatbush and Kew Garden Hills; they come with black yarmulkas to signify Agudah and knitted ones to shout their support and empathy with Zvulun Hammer; they come with no yarmulkas and are given them by their local American Jewish Congress tour guide; they come with no yarmulkas and wear the cardboard type that the keepers of the Wall dispense; they come with whatever they come with. To see It. The Wall.
They come with familiarity (some having been to Israel seven, eight, ten times), having reached the rank of resident tourist. Usually these are Orthodox Jews who come up to the Wall with confident strides as if to shake the hand of a familiar acquaintance. Others are not sure just what they have to do, how they are required to act, and they stand uncomfortably and nervously, glancing about to see what the others are doing. Still others stand, just stand before the Wall – thinking, meditating, praying, talking, whispering, weeping. And then they leave.
They have been to the Land, been to Zion, been to Jerusalem, the Holy City, and been to see it. And then they leave.
They leave behind their money, their tour guides, their little notes they wrapped into a small ball or wad and left in the crevices of the Wall. They leave the Land and Zion and Jerusalem, the Holy City, and the Wall. They go back to Great Neck and Boston and Los Angeles and Miami and, of course, Washington Heights and Monsey and Williamsburg and Boro Park.
They leave Old Jerusalem for newer ones and the Wall for Wall Street because they must. To see Israel is to enjoy an experience beyond comparison. To see Jerusalem, the Holy City, is to gather a treasury of memories beyond price. To see the Wall is to experience a thrill that is indescribable. But everything has its time and its place and all good tours must come to an end. Israel is the finest of all places to visit, but it is not for them to live there. And so they leave.
The beards and the beardless, the Orthodox (ultra and modern), Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanist, agnostic, atheist … They leave. For "home." And I often wonder: When they came, they ran to say hello to the Wall. When they leave, do they make a point to say goodbye? And, indeed, how does one say goodbye to the Wall?
What does one say to It? Does one stand there and daven Mincha, pray the Afternoon service that says: "And may our eyes behold Thy return to Zion … " and then say to It: "Well, I suppose I have to go now. The business can’t shut down for more than three weeks. Take care of yourself and let’s hope that He returns soon …?"
Does one shake the Wall’s vegetation in lieu of a hand and does one kiss it – kiss it goodbye? If one knows that the Shechina, the Divine Presence, never left the Wall, how does one say goodbye to Him? What does one, who is leaving Israel for the Exile that we are told finds him with no God and worshipping idolatry in "purity," say to the Divine Presence at the Wall?
I suppose that it is all this that finds most people leaving Israel without saying goodbye to It. I suppose that especially the ones whose heart and conscience are not as stone, cannot say to the Wall whose stones are as hearts: Goodbye, I am violating a basic tenet of Judaism; I betray my land; I go back to the fleshpots and materialism of the Exile and thus forsake you.
But I also wonder what the Wall says and thinks as It watches the Jews who come to visit as casually as if they were taking a trip (as so many more do lately) to Puerto Rico and Spain and Aruba and Rome. I wonder what It thinks as It looks at the hordes of tourists who come to touch It, fondle It, kiss It, stare at It, memorialize It in their film (still and motion) – and then go back to the lands that they consider their real homes. I wonder what It thinks as It watches the Jews pray and sway and bay at it. I wonder what It thinks as It watches the ritual and idol worship that has been built about It by the American Jewish Congress, the Ministry of Tourism and the UJA. I wonder what It thinks as It watches the Orthodox from New Frankfort on the Heights and the majesty of Crown Heights and sees all the "religious Jews" on their 3 week vacation before returning to idolatry.
Surely, this last remnant of the Temple, in which preached the Prophets who inveighed against hypocrisy, remembers their words and repeats them to their descendants. Surely it repeats the words: "When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required this at your hand to trample my courts? Bring no more vain oblations, it is an offering of abomination unto Me; New Moon and Sabbath, the holding of convocations – I cannot endure iniquity along with the solemn assembly … " (Isaiah 1: 12)
The Wall looks at those who come to honor It and at that very moment plan to betray the Land and abominate it by leaving for an Exile they call "home" – and repeats: "Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (Samuel 1, 15:22). They leave the Wall for "home." They refuse to dwell in the Land of this Wall. It knows that that which they plan – peace and security in the Galut – will never be. It knows that if they reject the Wall of the Almighty, that there will be other walls for them: walls of fire and walls of prisons and camps. The Galut is one huge wall for the Jew – though he refuses to see it.
If one comes to the Wall late, very late at night and listens carefully, very carefully, he can hear the Wall. It weeps softly to itself and says: "Woe unto my people for their humiliation of the Land…" And it seems to me that the Wall would prefer that those who say goodbye to it, would not bid it hello.
ADDITIONAL NOTE FROM THE BLOGGER: I thought it was ironic, knowing that I was planning to post this material today, that I heard this afternoon about someone saying "goodbye" to the Kotel before leaving Eretz Yisrael immediately after Tisha b'Av. Maybe I'm the crazy one, but it feels like a punch to my stomach whenever I hear of any Jew leaving, and especially so if they've been here for ten years already. Then, adding insult to injury, I was told that the people had always planned to leave. So much so, that they kept two-day yomtov the entire time they were here. I'd never even heard of such a thing and I'm sorry that now I have. For this we cry on Tisha b'Av.
REMINDER: It’s a mitzvah to diminish our joy during these days. According to the wisdom of King Solomon, there is a time and a place for everything under the sun. For our purposes, there is a time for joy and a time for sadness. It is highly inappropriate to be bouncing with happiness right now. If good news comes your way, please keep a lid on it until after Tisha b’Av. Thanks!