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These Walls, They Ache

These Walls, They Ache

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Reflections on the widely visited synagogue of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, located at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. Familiarly known as simply “770,” this landmark synagogue and epicenter of the Chabad movement has welcomed people from all walks of life since the 1940s.


These walls, if only they could speak, oh, what they would tell. Of the broken hearts you uplifted, of the impassive spirits you ignited, of the skeptical minds you enlightened.

These weathered beams, how many times they watched you cry.

These windows, the colors of the souls they mirrored, day in, day out, for so many years.

I come here to find the color of my soul reflected in the glass. I come here to remember when you touched me.

The famed chassidic personality Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Shpoli related that when he was a child of three he saw the saintly Baal Shem Tov. “He placed his holy hand on my heart, and ever since, I have felt warm . . .”

A gesture of a tzaddik, certainly seeing him and hearing his voice, must make an impression never to be forgotten. (Hayom Yom, 14 Teves)

And so it is.

These worn benches forever etched with your holy words, upon which men of another world once sat, etching your teachings into their very hearts and minds.

These walls, they ache. They’ve heard all of your songs. Sing to me, I tell them.

These floors, they carry me when the earth outside seems to fall away beneath my feet.

I come here when I’m drifting, when I can’t hear my own voice anymore. I come here because I need you to call me back to myself. And when you do, when you wake me from my reverie, you bring my walls down. I then make the trek back home unguarded, dedicating everything I have to follow your dreams.

See, here I can just be me. Not child, nor parent; not artist, nor scientist; not sinner, nor saint. Just be, these walls whisper, just be.

Here it is not about our differences; here it is all about oneness. It is here that I remember we are born against our will. That the world is naught, that G‑d is everything. That if we turned more deeply inward, we would discover greater happiness. It is here that I learn that when you sat and spoke for hours on end, it was not for your own fulfillment, but for ours; that your entire raison d’être was for the good of humanity.

And in our weaker moments, when our eyes were blinded by the lights of a free country, these walls stood tall, absorbing your every breath, silently promising to share your vision with every soul that would pass through in the years to come.

They all pass through here at one time or another. They come from far, but they always felt close. The former hippie, he’s forever been your chassid—long before he knew your name, long before he even knew there were Jews living in Brooklyn. When he was writing music in the mountains of Tibet, already then he was your chassid. Everything you taught, that’s what he was writing about.

He comes here to touch what he knows, to taste what he senses—searching, as we all are.

They say when you used to pray here, it was like the Garden of Eden.

“Why all the mayhem today?” he muses. It is our lives, I tell him. The chaos, the friction—it is the mayhem of our souls. You can still smell Eden here, I assure him. Where? he asks. When the dust-kicking, sand-swirling wrestle of your souls dies down for a moment, then you can hear the songs in these walls. Come when it’s quiet, I offer. Or better, come when it’s loud inside of you, when you can’t hear your own voice anymore.

“Why don’t they fix this place up?” a tourist asks me, confused. Because we are broken, I tell her; because we are busy fixing our souls in the debris of exile. We are searching for the scattered pieces of ourselves where we first lost them—and where we first found them. Only once you have been broken can you truly mend. And it is here, between these aching walls, that we learn how to heal.

Yes, the benches may be worn, the floorboards creaking beneath my feet, the nooks and crannies aged with time. But these walls, they ache. Stay a while, they whisper. Stay, and just be. Be everything you are.

Sara Hecht is a freelance writer, composer and singer from Australia. To book Sara for a musical performance, visit sarahecht.com.
Painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman.
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Leibel Lazaroff January 23, 2013

WOW Wow i like it Reply

Anonymous January 23, 2013

Beautiful and touching. Also the joy and the ecstasy which these walls were witness to, the singing and dancing of thousands, 'like one man with one heart', lead by the Rebbe. How do we bring that back? Reply

Anonymous Australia January 23, 2013

Thank you So inspiring and beautiful! Reply

f January 21, 2013

I must pray I am touched by the ache and whispers of the walls. I did not know it is real. Reply

Anonymous January 20, 2013

Truly touching and beautiful. The walls that get better with age...couldn't agree more! To much light, love and laughter in your life always. Reply

Natana Pesya Kulakofski Nahariya, Israel January 20, 2013

There's another beit knesset that is dear to me. BH The Frierdiker Rebbe gave a bracha to the Yeshiva of Worcester, MA, many years ago when Rabbi Fogelman was fresh from rabbinical studies, having been sent to Worcester to found the synagogue and the school that has been known all these years as simply, "the Yeshiva". It is a special place for me because it was there that I was introduced to true Yiddishkeit in a warm, loving manner. Rabbi Fogelman, who is as dear to me as my own father, offered me the mitzvos of the Torah as though they were cookies on a plate. " Here, try one," he would seem to say. When I realized I wanted to change my life, but I wasn't sure if I could do tshuvah, Rabbi Fogelman, a son and a grandson of rabbis, pointed to himself and said to me, "I'm a baal tshuvah." That gave me hope. I remember the exact spot on the floor where he was standing when he said that to me some twenty-plus years ago. If that floor could talk! Reply

Shayna New Haven January 17, 2013

This is wonderful, you captured the feeling for me. This is a good article to look at from time to time, to remind myself, much success in your life. Reply

sue Kanata January 17, 2013

Beautiful Your writing is so touching it is divine. Reply

Dina Yerushalayim January 17, 2013

The walls soon will be able to speak, and we will be able to hear above all the noise, when Moshiach sings his song. Reply

Anonymous January 17, 2013

beautiful This is simply touching and beautiful. Reply

Missie Atlanta January 15, 2013

Thank you for posting this. It speaks to me so much right now. It was the "walls" in the title that drew me to read the article. I have just moved to a new place and keep reminding myself I am grateful and blessed to have a roof over my head and four walls to hold it up. But the walls have felt like a prison, have seemed neutral, cold, nonentities. Yet maybe they have something in common with the walls of this synagogue, if for no other reason than that they, too, are walls. I needed to read this right now. Thank you for posting it. Reply

Michael anonymous January 3, 2013

This poem touched my soul so profoundly. The author understands so deeply humanity's aching, that you can almost touch it. Time and space are made so fluid and made as One. All jewish history is encapsulated in it. I heard this poem too, somewhere - "before it was written". Thank you Sara for reminding me who I am... Reply

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