Tuesday, May 23, 2017

On Honoring or Profaning God's Name - the Jewish Thought Corner

Writing in the Sand by Carl Bloch
"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"
I wanted to go to synagogue this week, but I chose to go on Sunday, instead of Shabbot (Saturday) (it's a habit from going to church most of my life); so, I missed it and had to settle on listening to the synagogue podcast. The talk really forced me to reflect on my own behavior and question if I was behaving in a way that honored God.

Rabbi Sharon Brous gave a short 15 minutes thought-provoking talk titled “Yes, But Are You DECENT?”, which essentially argued that the difference between honoring God's name and profaning God's name is reflected in if we're willing to engage in small acts of cruelty against the outcasted or not. I never thought about how shaming it is to God's reputation to strike out against the outcasted, no matter how petty such acts can be. (She goes on to say that the descendants of Aaron are commanded to honor God's name.)

Rabbi Brous talked about how cruel teenagers could be to the unpopular. I remember once, in middle school there was an unpopular guy in school, and because he looked funny, dressed weird, and talked in a way that irritated me, I treated him badly. No, I didn't break any rules per se. I just ignored him or made fun of him, and I never knew how hurtful it was, until a friend told me years later, "Paul, he still remembers how you treated him." I wasn't a Christian then, but I'm sure even as a Christian I behaved in such ways to other people before.

What I never thought about, though, is how disgraceful it is to act like this, because it shames God's reputation. In other words, it reflect's badly on the master, when others see the servant treat the weak or marginalized with contempt, no matter how small the act. And although the talk didn't directly address why, the answer is pretty clear: Because we're all created and made in the image of God. (1 Gen. 26-27).

Brous goes further to say that when someone engages in kiddush Ha-Shem, the act of honoring God, that person has compassion, kindness and decency to the outcasted or the marginalized. In contrast, to treat the outcasted in a way that is cruel or makes a person feel more marginalized profanes God's name, which in Hebrew is called chillul Ha-Shem. And the only difference between the two is whether we're willing to engage in small acts of cruelty to the weak, of if we're willing to show small acts of kindness and compassion to those in need of them.

The concepts are re-echoed also in the New Testament. Above, is a drawing which illustrates the incident in which the religious leaders brought a woman caught in adultery (certainly someone ready to be outcasted by the community by stoning) to Jesus. The Hebrew law said that such an act merited stoning.

The religious leaders brought her to Jesus, because they wanted to trap Jesus. If Jesus said to not stone her, he would be branded a heretic, as he wasn't following the orthodoxy of the law. If Jesus condemned her, he would be seen as cruel and partook in the killing of a life. So, what did he do?

He wrote on the sand, "Let he who has no sin cast the first stone." When the religious leaders saw this, one by one, they left (more likely than not dropping the stone they held in their hand). When all were gone, except for Jesus, Jesus asked her if there were any accusers of her sin? She said they were all gone. Under Hebrew law, because adultery requires witnesses (at least two in fact), Jesus told her, "I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again." And with that, the lady, who was most likely naked, ashamed, and afraid to die, was set free from her sentence.

Brous's message certainly has me thinking about the two concepts of chillul Ha-Shem and kiddush Ha-Shem more, and how my life reflects on honoring or profaning God's name. It also has me thinking if it's appropriate to disengage with people, who are saying and acting badly towards others and myself. Sometimes I just don't have the patience to deal with people who are behaving too selfishly for my tolerance. I don't know the answer to this one and will be thinking about it for a few more days.

Hope this helps you think about these two concepts as well, no matter what background of faith you come from. 

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