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XXXV

THE SORROW OF THE CHOSEN-THE WAY OF THE CROSS

W

E had left Bethlehem and were back in Jerusa

lem, presently, on our way to the Jews' Wailingplace. I did not believe in it before I went. I was afraid it might be a sort of show-place, prepared for the occasion. I have changed my mind now. If there is one thing in Jerusalem absolutely genuine and directly linked with its ancient glories, it is the Jews' Wailing-place.

You approach it through a narrow lane-a sickening gantlet of misery. Near the entrance wretched crones, with the distaff and spindle of the Fates, sat in the dust, spinning what might have been the thread of sorrow. Along the way the beggars; not the ordinary vociferous beggars of Constantinople, of Smyrna, of Ephesus, even of Jaffa, but beggars such as the holy city alone can duplicate. Men and women who are only the veriest shreds of humanity, crouched in the dirt, reeking with filth and rags and vermin and sores, staring with blind and festering eyes, mumbling, moaning, and wailing out their eternal cry of baksheesh, often-if a woman-clutching some ghastly infant to a bare, scrawny breast. There was no loud demand for alms; it was only a muted chorus of pleading, the voice with which misery spells its last word. Some made no sound, nor gesture, even. They saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing they were no longer alive-they had only not ceased to breathe and suffer. The spectacle made us gasp and want to cry out with the very horror of it.

We were through the fearful gantlet at last, and went directly into the Jews' Wailing-place. There behold the most lamentable passage in the most tragic epic of all history-the frayed remnant of a once mighty race mourning for its fall. A few hours before, and but a few rods away, we had looked upon the evidences of its former greatness, its splendor and its glory—the place of King Solomon's temple when it sat as on the pinnacle of the world. Indeed, we were looking at it now, for this wall before which they bow in anguish is a portion of the mighty architecture for which they mourn. In the general destruction of Titus this imposing fragment remained, and to-day they bow before it and utter their sorrow in the most doleful grieving that ever fell on human ear. Along the wall they stand or kneel, and on rows of benches behind they gather thickly, reading from faded and tattered Hebrew Scriptures the "Lamentations,” or chanting in chorus the saddest dirge the world has ever known.

“Because of the palace which is deserted-
We sit alone and weep.
Because of the temple which is destroyed,
Because of the walls which are broken down,
Because of our greatness which has departed,
Because of the precious stones of the temple ground to

powder,
Because of our priests who have erred and gone astray,
Because of our kings who have contemned God-
We sit alone and weep!”

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It is no mere ceremony—no mock sorrow; it is the mingled wail of a fallen people. These Jews know as no others of their race can realize the depth of their fall, and they gather here to give it voice — a tonal and visual embodiment of despair. Even I, who am not of that race, felt all at once the deadly clutch of that vast grieving, and knew something of what a young Hebrew, a member of our party, felt when he turned sick and hurried from the spot.

What other race has maintained an integrity of sorrow? What, for instance, does the blood of Imperial Rome care for its departed grandeur? It does not even recognize itself. What other nation has ever maintained racial integrity of any kind? But, then, these were a chosen people!

Chosen, why? Because they were a noble people? Hardly. Their own chronicles record them as a murmuring, rebellious, unstable race. Following the history of the chosen people from Jacob to Joshua, one is in a constant state of wonder at the divine selection. We may admit that God loved them, but we seek in vain for an excuse. In His last talk with Moses He declared that they would forsake Him, and that He in turn would forsake them and hide His face because of the evils they should do. Moses, who knew them even better, distrusted them

“For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves," he said, almost with his latest breath. He told them that curses would befall them, and gave them a few sample curses, any one of which would lift the bark off of a tree. No

even more.

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