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Wrapped in Garments of Light

Aryeh Ehrlich

Who is Rav Yaakov Ades — the mystery kabbalist who chants the sunrise Shacharis at the Kosel with the kavanos of the Rashash, the Talmudic genius who knows Shas and poskim by heart, the ascetic holy man with the worn clothing and frayed yellowed tallis whose words pierce the hearts of those who seek him out?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

rabbiThursday Night, one a.m.

The few remaining late-night worshippers at Wilson’s Arch — the covered continuation of the Kosel to the left of the men’s section — watch Rav Yaakov Ades’s receding back as the guard lets him through a pitch-black opening and then locks the heavy metal gate behind him. This is the hour of the kabbalists, and uninvited outsiders are no longer allowed past this point that leads down into the cavernous Kosel Tunnels. Rav Ades scurries through the dark winding labyrinths underneath the Muslim Quarter and ascends and descends ancient stairwells that pulsed with life 2,000 years ago, making his way to the tiny Synagogue of the Mekubalim directly opposite the Holy of Holies.

Sometimes called the “Rav Getz Synagogue” — named after the previous rav of the Kosel ztz”l whose unearthing of this sacred spot was followed by an underground fistfight with Muslim Wakf officials — this is where the kabbalists of Jerusalem join together for Tikun Chatzos, the heartrending lament over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. While each member of this esoteric minyan cries out from his personal place of connection, Rav Ades’s voice seems to pierce the very depths of existence as he begs for mercy for Klal Yisrael wherever they may be. And when it’s over and he emerges from the subterranean maze of ancient pathways together with the quorum of mekubalim before the sun has risen, he turns to me in apology: “Come to me tomorrow at Yeshivat HaShalom and we’ll talk then.”

Who is this mystery Kosel kabbalist who so many see daily at the Western Wall screaming out for Redemption, whose unforgettable Shacharis vasikin (with the kavanos of the Rashash, the 18th century Yemenite mekubal Rav Shalom Sharabi ztz”l), Minchah, or Maariv is heard daily by thousands of visitors to Judaism’s holiest site? Who is this Talmudic genius who knows all of Shas and poskim by heart? Who is this scholar who’s written dozens of seforim, whose ratty clothing, frayed yarmulke, shoes held together with Scotch tape, and yellowed tallis that should have long ago been put in genizah — which he wears at all times, even to his own son’s recent wedding — bespeak a life of asceticism and inscrutability? The next day, I’m about to find out.

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