Tag Archives: holy

Is the Cross Holy?

Today’s amud discusses the level of respect one should afford the bimah, aron and the sefer Torah.

A certain man’s niece married someone that he felt was below her. The uncle preferred to stay as far away as possible from the chosson and did everything he could to avoid him. Yet every time he got an aliyah, the uncle would follow the halachah and walk back to his seat using the longer route around the bimah, and this meant that he passed near the chosson’s place. He preferred not to even see him and now he was forced to walk past him! Since he was an important man in the community he was called up to the Torah fairly frequently and this became more than a passing annoyance.

After much thought, he figured he had a solution to his problem. He would walk back to his seat the way he came, but he would do so very slowly rather than take the longer route. Surely this was as much honor to the Torah as going the long way since he was taking at least as much time to return to his seat. After all, does it not say that one should rush to shul but leave in an unrushed manner?

But when he consulted with the Ben Ish Chai, the sage ruled this is absolutely prohibited. “You are definitely incorrect in your assumption that walking slowly to your place via the shorter way back is the same as taking the longer way with bigger steps. The proof to this is the words of the Rambam who writes that rushing or walking slowly does not have any relevance on our consideration of what is the short or long way to leave the Beis Hamikdash. The same holds true here.

He concluded, “Taking the longer way to one’s seat shows respect; any other way shows disdain no matter one’s pace!”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“The Respectful Route”
Siman 154 Seif 7

From a Christian point of view, this rather elaborate response to the respect and sanctity shown to holy objects in Judaism may seem rather excessive. While Catholicism and other Christian traditions maintain a number of holy objects that must be treated with sanctity, Protestant Christianity has few if any such items.Perhaps the sanctuary itself is considered holy or the baptismal font. Some Christians consider their personal Bibles to be holy objects and will treat them with care (although this isn’t consistent across all Christians in all churches).

What else? Anything?

How about the cross?

I pass a number of churches when I travel to and from work each day. One church, just a few minutes from my home, has a large cross mounted on their grounds outside the church building. Since the church is located near a major intersection, the cross is visible to thousands and thousands of drivers every day. How much holiness should this cross, or any cross, afforded? Should a cross be afforded respect and sanctity as an object that is holy to God?

I don’t know.

The reverence shown the cross was always a little mysterious to me, even when I attended the church. I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice that a great deal of attention is being paid to an object that was used to kill a lot of people in ancient times. The “execution stake” used by the Romans to do away with criminals was not exclusive to Jesus. Who knows how many thieves and murderers and political dissidents met their lingering and horrible end nailed to this gruesome thing?

I’m not completely naive, and I realize it is the symbolism of the cross that has meaning in Christianity, not the physical object itself. Of course, we also have this:

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” –Luke 9:23 (ESV)

It is clear that the Master also used the cross as a symbol of self-sacrifice and even as representing an aspect of discipleship, so maybe I’m way off base in even raising this question. I expect to be criticized by more than a few people for using this topic as my morning meditation, but in reading and studying about the holy objects in Judaism, it seemed to be a logical extension of my current thoughts. Also, in studying both last week’s Torah Portion and this week’s, the mention of holy objects is extremely prominent (especially considering the “incident of the Golden Calf” and how Israel believed paying homage to an object was an appropriate way to worship God).

But even if you, as a Christian, consider the cross as holy or even a church as holy, not everyone shares your opinion.

Today’s amud discusses things which are unusable for holy purposes because they are disgusting.

Beis Medrash Hagadol on the East Side of New York was confronted with a serious problem. They were required to find new premises in the area but the only place for sale was an apartment that had been used as a church for several years. Although Rabbi Avraham Yosef Asch knew that many authorities prohibit this in general, here the structure had been a regular apartment which had not originally built for religious purposes. In addition, the prior tenants had not brought in idols or icons of any sort. Nevertheless, they asked the Binyan Tzion if this was permitted.

The Binyan Tzion ruled decisively. “It is certainly not prohibited to purchase the property, since one can buy a place used for idolatry for his personal use. The moment he sells the property he has nullified the idolatrous use of it and it is permitted.

“However, there is a dispute whether a house of idol worship that has been nullified is considered disgusting for use as a shul and the like.”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“The Former Tenants”
Siman 154 Seif 12

I suppose it’s not comfortable for most Christians to consider the thought that many religious Jews would see their churches as places of “idol worship,” and perhaps even too “disgusting” to be used for Jewish worship. However, I often write about the “intersection” between Gentile Christian worship of Jesus and Jewish worship of Jesus, or Yeshua, as Messiah. Fundamentally, the Christian and Messianic Jew worship the same God and give honor to the same Messiah. But the cross that the Christian holds so dear may not be seen as holy and precious by the Jew who, though Messianic, has endured the memories how the cross was used for thousands of years as a symbol of persecution, exile, and even death.

I’m not saying that the cross has that meaning in the church today, but old wounds heal slowly. If you beat a man often enough with a baseball bat, pretty soon, all you have to do is show the man the bat in order to get him to cringe.

The Torah, including the portions of Exodus that are currently being studied in the synagogue, is very specific about the exact nature and character of objects that are considered holy to God. The cross isn’t one of those objects considered holy anywhere in the Bible. Nevertheless, I often miss the point, according to some of my critics, so I’m willing to admit that I may be missing something here.

Answer me if you can and are willing, because I don’t know. Is the cross a holy object in the church? Is it holy to God? Are we, as disciples of the Master, to afford it sanctity? And how should Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah view the cross?

Everything Man is given comes in a finite package. Even the tablets Moses carried down from Mount Sinai were defined and bounded.

And so, when G-d saw Moses mourning over the broken tablets, He said, “Your powers were focused when you smashed the tablets. For now you will receive a Torah you may extend wider than the sea.”

When Man fails, he shatters the treasures G-d has put in his trust. But then he cries and picks up the shards to restore what he has ruined.

That is when he discovers that G-d Himself was hidden inside.
He discovers the Infinite.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Breaking Limits”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

If the cross of Christ were smashed, would we find that its pieces contain the infinite light of Jesus?

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
—from the Rebbe’s discussions of his father-in-law’s last discourse.

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?