This year, I found the Nine Days pretty hard going and emotionally intense. To put it a different way, I was blubbing like a baby for almost a fortnight, and felt like I was getting hit with one emotional tsunami after another.
I’d have one massive ‘issue’, talk to God about it, try to learn the lessons or make the teshuva (repentance) I needed to, feel good again – and then the very next day, I’d get hit with another massive issue to work on.
By day 8 of the Nine Days, I was a complete wreck, so I did what I always do in those circumstances, and sought some solace by Hashem. As I live 15 minutes away from the Kotel, that seemed like the natural destination to do some emergency personal prayer, so I took my knitting, and went.
I took my knitting for a few reasons:
1) I’m in the middle of knitting a shawl, and it’s going to take me months to finish it.
2) Knitting while I talk to God sometimes helps keeps me focussed, especially when I’m somewhere ‘busy’ like the Kotel, where I can get carried away with looking at everyone else there, instead of doing what I came to do, ie talk to God.
I don’t often knit and pray, but I’m going through a stage of doing that at the moment, and for this time and place in my life, it’s working for me. So I got to the Kotel, I sat down off to the side, I took my knitting out, and I started crying my heart out as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
I had a lot of heartache well up and break out again, and from past experience, I know the best way to deal with it is to let it surface, speak honestly to God about what’s hurting me, and then wait for Him to tell me what’s really going on, and why it’s going to be OK.
So I talked a bit, knitted a bit, cried a bit, sat a bit, on and on, for a good hour until I finally started to feel better, and the tears were starting to dry up. I’d done one and a half rows, and they were pretty wonky, but inside I was starting to fill much more pulled together and OK again.
Which is when the old bag swooped in and attacked.
At first, I thought she was asking me for the time, or something, so I gave her my best friendly face and tried to pay attention to what she was saying. What she was saying, in Hebrew, was this:
“Tell me: have you asked a rav if it’s OK for you to be knitting at the Kotel?”
Once I understood her, I started to see red (I’m half Moroccan, and very occasionally, it shows.)
“Why should I ask a rav?” I asked her. “What’s wrong with knitting?”
She didn’t know, but she just felt I should ask a rav, because she was sure it was wrong (it goes without saying she was as ‘frum’ as they get, padded headscarf and all.)
I tried to explain that I was knitting while I was talking to God, which is when she really started having a go at me, because it was completely forbidden to talk to God while doing anything else!!!!
At this point, something snapped and my Moroccan Mrs Hyde completely took over.
“Tell me,” I asked her, “have you asked a rav it it’s OK for you to be embarrassing people in public like this?”
She tried to tell me that she wasn’t, and that she was only trying to give me ‘rebuke’, like you’re meant to.
“OK,” I snarled back. “Let’s make a deal: I’ll ask a rav if it’s OK to knit, if you ask a rav if it’s OK to treat people in such a nasty way, and to have a go at them in front of so many other people. And if you like rebuke so much, you can have as much of it from me as you want, just give me the word…”
At that point, she turned on her heel and left.
I sat there fuming for another 5 minutes, knitting in lap. What an old bag! What a hypocrite! She was still holding her prayer book open at her place in the middle while she was talking to me, because she’d interrupted her own ‘devotions’ to come and have a go at me.
Then, I started pondering what the message was, and also, should I finish my row? After all, God was behind that old bag, and maybe He wasn’t so impressed with my knitting hitbodedut? I did some more talking to Him about it all, and here’s what I got:
The lady was a test, to show me how much things had changed.
In the past, I’ve been bullied a lot in various circumstances, and God wanted to show me that I could handle the crazies better now, and that I could stand up for myself, and that I didn’t have to feel like the perpetual victim any more.
The second thing I got is that I should knit another row, just for God. (I have to say, that bit surprised me a little.)
God helped me to see that talking to Him and working on myself, knitting or not, is the most precious way I could be spending my time.
So I carried on purling, and by the end of the row and my visit to the Kotel, I felt so much better.
Don’t give up, dear reader, if you have an obstacle, or wig-wearing bulldog, trying to pull you away from your conversations with God, however modest or imperfect they appear to you.
They’re changing the world, really.
I think that’s why sometimes, they attract so much negative attention.