To Desecrate What is Holy

Chasam Sofer also writes that it is obvious that one does not violate the prohibition against saying God’s Name in vain unless he pronounces the Name but writing God’s Name does not violate a prohibition. He adds that if one examines our Gemara carefully he will realize that the prohibition against cursing someone with the Name of God and the prohibition against taking a false oath with the Name of God are subsets of the prohibition of saying God’s Name in vain.

Daf Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Writing God’s Name in vain”
Temurah 4

What is the purpose?

The One Above desires to dwell in things below.

Meaning that a breath of G-dly life descends below and dresses itself in a body and human person, and this body and person negate and conceal the light of this G-dly soul…yet nevertheless, the soul purifies and elevates the body, the person and even her share of the world.

And what is the reason behind this purpose?

There is none.

It transcends reason; it is the place from which all reason is born.

And so it is unbounded and all-consuming. For it is a desire of the Essence.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Entrance”
—from the Rebbe’s discussions of his father-in-law’s last discourse.
Chabad.org

The concepts of holiness and respect for God vary between Christian and Jewish thought. When I used to attend a church, I heard God referred to in the most casual and intimate manner, as if God were nothing more than a super-amplified grandfather. People, admittedly in need of comfort, described themselves as if they were sitting on God’s lap and cuddling up with Him. Even as a brand new Christian all those years ago, I found myself uncomfortable with the image.

Now I know why.

I’m sure some of you reading my quote from the daf on Temurah 4 probably think the Jewish people overdo this “respect” thing a little, and yet, if we could have stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai on that day when the thunder of His voice shook the ground, and if we could have seen the fire and the smoke, and trembled at the sound of the great shofar, would we still think of God as a “cuddly grandfather?”

I’m not saying we should not take comfort in God, but only that we should remember that He is not a man, not even a great man, and we cannot treat Him as such.

The comfort we can take is that, as Rabbi Freeman cites of the Rebbe’s discourse, the “One Above desires to dwell in things below.” From this, we who are Christians see God’s desire to dwell in things below” ultimately expressed here:

The word was made flesh and dwelled in our midst. We have beheld his glory, like the glory of a father’s only son, great in kindness and truth. –John 1:14 (DHE Gospels)

This is our greatest comfort, that in some mysterious and mystic way, an aspect of the One, has been able to dwell among men, as the Divine Presence dwelled within the Mishkan and among the Children of Israel. A tent is not God cannot contain God anymore than the body of a man is God can contain the infinite Essence, and yet in some inexplicable fashion, “we have beheld his glory.”

We also learn why the Jewish people revere the Torah, not merely as a scroll or a holy icon, but as the One, who again has dwelled “in things below.”

When God began to create heaven and earth – the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water –Genesis 1:1-2 (JPS Tanakh)

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. –John 1:1 (DHE Gospels)

But God’s holiness is not limited, and just as Judaism believes that each Jew is a receptacle for the Divine Presence and just as Christianity embraces the fact that all believers have received the Holy Spirit within us, so we understand together, the words of the Rebbe “that a breath of G-dly life descends below and dresses itself in a body and human person.”

That means each one of us is holy and sacred. This lesson is understood, in some manner, even among secular people, and even in the realm of fiction, where perhaps it’s easier for a worldly and progressive humanity to express such spiritual thoughts.

Lakanta: What do you think is sacred to us here?
Wesley Crusher: Maybe the necklace you’re wearing? The designs on the walls?
Lakanta: Everything is sacred to us – the buildings, the food, the sky, the dirt beneath your feet – and you. Whether you believe in your spirit or not, we believe in it. You are a sacred person here, Wesley.
Wesley Crusher: I think that’s the first time anyone’s used that particular word to describe me.
Lakanta: You must treat yourself with respect. To do otherwise is to desecrate something that is holy.
Wesley Crusher: Is that what you think I’ve been doing?
Lakanta: Only you can decide that.
Wesley Crusher: I guess I haven’t had a lot of respect for myself lately.

-from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode
Journey’s End

Not only do I think it has become common among the people of faith to treat God all too casually and without respect, I think we also have gotten into the habit of treating each other and ourselves in the same way. And as we see from this important lesson from a rather unusual source, if we don’t treat each other and ourselves with respect, just as we don’t treat God with respect, how much more so do we desecrate something and someone that is holy?

3 thoughts on “To Desecrate What is Holy”

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