Tag Archives: desecrate

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.

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?