The first mention of the concept of the curtain is found in the Talmud. Today this curtain is called the parochet (Heb. פרוכת).
The ark, known as the aron kodesh (Heb. ארון קודש), is considered one of the holiest components of the synagogue; the actual Torah scrolls which are kept inside the ark are the holiest.
In the Holy Temple in Jerusalem there was a curtain separating the “Holy” chamber and the “Holy of Holies” chamber. “And you shall place the table on the outer side of the dividing curtain…”
The curtain in the Temple was not used to separate the rooms; there was a stone wall for that. The curtain, explains Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi, was a sign of modesty and respect for the Holy Ark which was kept in the Holy of Holies.
The same is true for the ark in the synagogue. The Torahs are wrapped in individual coverings, the ark has a door, and we add an extra curtain as a sign of modesty and respect for the holy scrolls.
-Rabbi Dovid Zaklikowski
“Why is There a Curtain Covering the Ark in my Synagogue?”
What I quoted above might be just an interesting, educational tidbit except for the following:
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” -Matthew 27:51-54 (ESV)
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. -Ephesians 2:14-16 (ESV)
I’m really not bright enough or at least not sufficiently educated in theological issues to really address this issue, but it came up while I was reading so I thought I’d blog about it anyway.
In truth, I doubt there’s a way to connect the small article by Rabbi Zaklikowski to the New Testament verses I’ve referenced, but if nothing else, I guess I can illustrate how differently Judaism and Christianity view the parochet. It’s also important to remember, before I proceed, that Rabbi Zaklikowski’s commentary is midrash rather than established fact, relative to the “modesty” of the Torah scrolls. With all that said, let’s continue.
From Christianity’s point of view, the parochet represents something of a problem. It is both what separates man from God and what separates Jew from Gentile (specifically Gentile Christian). It is commonly believed that when Jesus died, the splitting of the parochet, which separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies, indicated that through Christ’s blood, there was no longer any separation between man and God. To put it in Christian vernacular, “man could now boldly approach the Throne of God” without the intermediary of the Levitical Priesthood.
The second symbolic representation of the parochet was the separation of Judaism, which for thousands of years was the sole keeper of ethical monotheism, the Torah, the Shabbat, and access to the God of Abraham, from the rest of humanity who were not inheritors of the covenant of Sinai. Through Jesus, the separation was torn down and now all men, not just the Jews, could approach God. There was no need to access God through Judaism and the Jewish priests. The distinctions between Jew and Gentile were torn away and everyone became “one new man” before God.
But looking at the parochet from Rabbi Zaklikowski’s perspective, it isn’t an undesirable barrier at all but rather, a protector and a sign of significance and special Holiness. Putting a veil between man and the most Holy place indicates that it is indeed the most Holy place; something not to be treated casually or as something common or ordinary.
This provides, or rather confirms something for me (and remember, this is all symbolism and parable, not concrete fact or Biblical truth). It has often bothered me how Christianity seems to treat Holy things as common. Jesus is a “good buddy.” God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, vast, infinite, omnipresent, omnipotent God, is actually a cute, cuddly cosmic teddy bear and anyone can just crawl up onto His lap and squeeze Him, and hold onto His furry, little tummy. I’ve even heard some women say that they occasionally imagine falling asleep in bed while being held in Christ’s arms.
I can understand being hurt and sad and broken and needing access to a comforter beyond what we have access to within humanity; someone who knows us, understands us, sympathizes with us, and yet, has access to the Throne of God and can intercede for us with the Almighty, asking for mercy, comfort, and grace.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. -Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)
On the other hand, in order to serve our own wants and needs, we have reduced the Jewish Messiah King and the One God of eternity, the great and awesome Ein Sof, down to mere shadows and objects of personal convenience.
We don’t want Jesus to be separated from us by anything so we make him our neighbor, our buddy, our “lover” (I say that in a non-sexual way), and our BFF.
That isn’t normally how a disciple treats his Master or how a subject considers her King.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to put the parochet back up at some point so we can preserve our sense of respect and honor of God as is His due, and to show glory and majesty to the King who came once and who will come again in power.
But what about the separation between Christian and Jew? How will putting parochet back up affect the “one new man?”
I’ve discussed that subject, from one point of view or another, for the past several years. What is the Christian responsibility to the Jew in terms of encouraging Jewish Torah observance, supporting the restoration of national Israel and her redemption, and thus summoning the great and terrible day of the Lord’s return?
In order to have a role in that, there must be some sort of distinction between Christian and Jew, especially if Gentile Torah observance isn’t what’s required to initiate Israel’s national redemption and everything that will follow. To tear down the parochet, removes the mechanism by which the Messiah will return. How can we do that?
Then what am I saying? Am I dismissing scripture? Am I discounting the Gospel of Matthew and the letter of Paul to the Ephesians? Not at all. I am saying that these events may not mean what we’ve been taught they mean. They are two, isolated text strings that have been used as part of a long pattern of the church’s supersessionist theology but which, on an actual lived and spiritual level, may represent something other than what we imagine.
After all, when the parochet in the Temple was torn, do we think that it was never repaired, and remained rent until the final destruction of the Temple and the razing of Jerusalem decades later? And was Paul’s metaphorical language meant to literally mean the Temple’s parochet, or was something else removed, the hostility, which may simply have been the attitudes between Jew and non-Jew which we see Peter overcoming in Acts 10?
I can’t say for sure. Perhaps New Testament scholars have their own theories. All I’m suggesting is that we might want to treat God with a tad bit more awe and reverence than what we are accustomed to, and we might want to consider that the Christian role in redeeming Israel may require removing the barriers of ethnic and religious “hostility,” without removing ethnic and religious distinctions, so that we can work in complementary fashion to perform Tikkun Olam, to repair our broken world, and to make it ready for what God has planned to happen next.
Just a few thoughts to ponder on today’s “morning meditation.”