Clarity at the Kotel – Getting Shuls Right

A Trip to Israel
I just got back from a trip to visit my son in Israel, where we had the good fortune to rent a small apartment in David’s Village, right across from the Mamilla Mall outside the Jaffa Gate. Although it can be a little disconcerting moving from the spiritually charged Kotel, to the high-fashion materialistically minded mall, the take-out coffee and gluten-free rolls at Aroma, now with a wonderful hechsher, helped ease the pain.

I davened as much as possible at the Kotel, except for a few sunrise Shacharis(es) at the magnificent Hurva Synagogue. Davening at the Kotel provided some clarity on three issues regarding Shuls:
1. The essence of a Shul is the davening
2. The Shemoneh Esrai start is the time that counts
3. Connecting to Hashem is our unifying principle

The essence of a Shul is the davening
When you’re at the Kotel, with the continuous minyanim, it becomes clear that the essential purpose of a congregation is to daven together to Hashem. This is what the Beis HaMikdash itself was all about and our shuls are our current day substitute. Although Shuls, primarily outside of Israel, perform many communal functions, at its core, a Shul is a place to pray.

The Shemoneh Esrai start is the time that counts
As many readers of this site know, starting Shemoneh Esrai at sunrise is the best time. Inside the tunnel at the Kotel, there were at least 4 minyanim, davening at different paces, volumes and nusachim. However when sunrise comes the entire place gets quiet as everybody starts Shemoneh Esrai together. Although Shuls often discuss when to start, when to finish, and how fast to go, we see that the essential time is when we start Shemoneh Esrai together, whether it’s at sunrise or not. If you want to daven slower you can come earlier or stay later, but davening with the Tzibbur, means starting Shemoneh Esrai together.

Connecting to Hashem is our unifying principle
Minyanim are continuously forming at the Kotel. It begins with a call for Mincha or Maariv and when 10 men have gathered, the sound of Ashrei, Shir Hamalos or Borechu is heard. When gathering the men, nobody cares what they do, peyos or not, or the covering on the head. When 10 men gather to pray to Hashem, at the holiest place in the world, that’s all that matters.

To me, this is the greatest clarity lesson, collectively connecting to Hashem is what truly unifies us, and helps us, the Jewish people, accomplish our worldly mission.