Holiness: Out There or Inside?

                                                   Holiness: Out There or Inside

                                                             By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

We were commanded not to make any sculptured images. (Exodus 20:4) So how can we explain why God commands, “Make two gold cherubim… from there I will deliver to you all my commands” (Exodus 25:18-22). The Mikhilta of Rabbi Ishmael says this means “not an image of angles, nor an image of cherubim”. But the Torah explicitly says making cherubim was God’s command. So Rabbi Ishmael also has to say this verse teaches that in the Temple the cherubim were permitted because the Torah text says there, but elsewhere any sculptured images were forbidden. Midrash Aggadah says “You shall not make images for yourselves, but you can make them for Me.” meaning that when something is done that strengthens the loyalty Jews have to the God of Israel; that is O.K.

But whenever something diminishes loyalty to the one God; that is bad. It is the outcome of the act that determines if it is Kosher. But if someone says, ‘Having an affair strengthens my or our marriage’ do not believe it. We lie best when we lie to ourselves. So too with loyalty to the God of Israel, don't take chances without consulting our sages.

Yet Rabbi Akiba said, “Divine words came to Moses only from between the two cherubim.” (Sifra) And Rabbi Eliezer son of Rabbi Yose HaGallile taught, “A corridor of fire descended from heaven to the space between the cherubim and spoke to Moses” (Sifre Zuta). So there, in the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem the place makes the image O.K. In opposition to this Rabbi Ishmael also taught, “God said to Moses: In every place where you find human footprints, I am there before you.” And Rabbi Aniya bar Susi taught, “Sometimes the whole universe cannot contain God’s glory, and sometimes God speaks with a person from between the hairs of your head.”(Genesis Rabbah 4:4) So is God equally everywhere; or is God's presence everywhere and at the same time concentrated in some special places where the general rules do not apply.

I would say that the bush wasn’t on fire, Moses was. Perhaps the solution may be found in the words of Rabbi Yose (not HaGallile) who taught, “The place does not honor the person, the person honors the place.” (Ta'anith 21b) Yet some places really are especially holy. Most people who see or touch the Western Wall in Jerusalem have a unique experience. Would you feel the same way elsewhere? Do you feel the same way about: 1) a printed Bible and a Torah scroll? 2) your child and your neighbors?