The Image of the Holy

[If a criminal has been executed by hanging] his body may not remain suspended overnight … because it is an insult to God.
Deuteronomy 21:23

Rashi explains that since man was created in the image of God, anything that disparages man is disparaging God as well.

Chilul Hashem, bringing disgrace to the Divine Name, is one of the greatest sins in the Torah. The opposite of chilul Hashem is kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the Divine Name. While this topic has several dimensions to it, there is a living kiddush Hashem which occurs when a Jew behaves in a manner that merits the respect and admiration of other people, who thereby respect the Torah of Israel.

What is chilul Hashem? One Talmudic author stated, “It is when I buy meat from the butcher and delay paying him” (Yoma 86a). To cause someone to say that a Torah scholar is anything less than scrupulous in meeting his obligations is to cause people to lose respect for the Torah.

Suppose someone offers us a business deal of questionable legality. Is the personal gain worth the possible dishonor that we bring not only upon ourselves, but on our nation? If our personal reputation is ours to handle in whatever way we please, shouldn’t we handle the reputation of our nation and the God we represent with maximum care?

Jews have given so much, even their lives, for kiddush Hashem. Can we not forego a few dollars to avoid chilul Hashem?

Today I shall …

… be scrupulous in all my transactions and relationships to avoid the possibility of bringing dishonor to my God and people.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Av 17”
Aish.com

This is an excellent point we Christians should learn. Yesterday, I commented about the intrinsic interweaving of loving God, loving other people, and loving ourselves. Rabbi Twerski’s commentary builds on that and shows us that what we do, for good or for ill, reflects upon the name of God. If we do good, God’s Name is elevated, even among the unbelieving nations. If otherwise, God’s Name is desecrated.

But there’s more.

Since all people everywhere across the vast span of human history have been created in the image of God, how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves is incredibly important. To treat another human being for any reason, with a lack of respect and dignity, is to treat God with dishonor. When we show kindness and compassion to someone, it is as if we were doing so to God. To show cruelty, dishonor, and disrespect to another…

…well, you get the idea.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:41-46 (ESV)

This reminds me of a song I heard Alanis Morissette sing on the radio, though I guess it was originally released by Joan Osborne:

What if god was one of us,
just a slob like one of us,
just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home?

-Lyrics by Eric Bazilian

If we would just try to imagine that everyone we encounter, no matter who they are, is God. How would that affect how we respond to them? How would we treat them differently? How would we see them? How would we feel about how we treated them yesterday?

But if God is holy, and being created in the image of God, other people are holy, what about you…and me? That is, how are you treating yourself? How am I treating myself?

Lakanta (played by Tom Jackson): What do you think is sacred to us here?

Wesley Crusher (played by Wil Wheaton): 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 (1994)

I always feel a little embarrassed when I include a quote from a television show or movie in these “meditations” but this transaction between Wesley and Lakanta absolutely crystallizes the point I’m trying to make. Remember, I previously said that there’s a connection between loving God and loving other people with loving yourself. Now we see that perhaps we can’t obey God at all; we cannot love Him and treat His Name as sacred, until we learn that to treat ourselves with disrespect is to desecrate someone who is holy…that is you…and me.

I know, it’s pretty hard to wake up first thing in the morning, look at that tired, unshaven face in the mirror, and think of myself as holy. On the other hand, what do we see when we look at the faces of other people? If we can’t see what is holy in them, how will we ever see what is Holy in God?

When we seek to serve God, when we do our best to help others, to treat them kindly, with respect, with dignity, we aren’t just doing it for them, though of course they benefit. We aren’t just doing it for ourselves either, for that would be ultimately self-serving. But in honoring others, we are serving a purpose that transcends our human existence and connects us with holy realms and an infinite God. The very act of spending half an hour with a sick friend at the hospital or even donating one can of beans to your local food bank inescapably connects you with the Divine purpose; the very heart of the One and True God. It’s not just morality, it’s spirituality. It’s not just right and wrong. It’s living holiness.

It’s so easy to think of ourselves as “ordinary.” It’s so easy to get swept away by the habits of our small lives. To go to work. To shop for food. To mow the lawn, To take out the garbage. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re not here to be ordinary people doing ordinary things. God created us to do great and wonderful things. It’s all at our fingertips. All we have to do is look in the mirror and see a sacred person. All we have to do is look at somebody else, and see someone who is holy.

God is One and we were created in His image. So it is as if God were one of us. It’s as if God is all of us, not as imagined in some mystic, eastern philosophical way, but because we are all of His image, His essence.

You are holy. So am I. So is the next person you see or speak to, no matter who they are.

As a person behaves here below, so he is treated above.

Perhaps someone once tried to tell you about the ugly deeds of another. Perhaps you responded, “I’m not interested.” And you didn’t listen.

Then there will be a time when a heavenly being will wish to report on your doings here on earth. If you have had the guts to respond this way, G‑d will also say, “I’m not interested. I don’t want to even listen.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“How to Not Listen”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

What if God was one of us?

Oh, one more thing. All this is far easier said than done, especially finding that “holy” guy in the mirror while I’m shaving in the morning.

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