Updated: Sep 12
Acceptance, being part of something, and wanting to make a difference are key elements to one’s well-being. Thinking that you are not enough while being ignored, rejected, marginalized, excluded, canceled, and in the language of Facebook, being “defriended” is a common theme today.
Rejection can be devastating both psychologically and spiritually. Feeling rejected by a person, family or group of people is dreadful. Sensing that you “do not belong” when entering a church or synagogue can mess with your head and spirit. Believing that God has rejected you crushes the spirit at a deeper level. Unfortunately, too many souls experience rejection at the hands of religious institutions because of differences and misunderstandings. Sometimes those of us “who are spiritual” slip into “majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors.”
Personal Experience of Rejection
Feeling like you do not belong. Feeling like you are excluded or not welcome can be devastating at any age. When I was a young boy, I did not fit in with the “Jocks,” the “Brainiacs,” or the “Jesus Freaks.” I just did not seem to fit in anywhere. The circumstances of my birth did not make it any easier with relatives. I can still remember relatives’ looks and whispers when we visited the “coal fields of West Virginia” during the summers. I sensed something was wrong but did not know what it was. Adults can make a kid feel like “the other” before you even know what it means to be the “other.”
One moment in time is embedded in my memory. It must have been 1961 or 1962. I was six years old, maybe seven. My mom experienced a terrible fall between two apartment buildings in the city of Chicago. She fell two stories down onto a concrete sidewalk shattering her pelvis and breaking her right leg in multiple places. She would face six months of hospitalization at the former Cook County Hospital. My dad was a “Dockman” and regularly worked long shifts and overtime each week. Since we did not have relatives in the city, he decided to take us to stay with his only sister in Bluefield, West Virginia.
We drove straight from Chicago to West Virginia. As a young boy, it was exciting to lay behind the rear seat looking out the rear window shield. When we arrived at my aunt’s house my dad took us both by the hand and walked up the walkway to the front door. He knocked on the door and his sister came to the door. She stepped out onto the porch to talk with my dad. I do not remember what they were talking about. I was captivated by the unfamiliar increasing sound of a coal train somewhere off in the distance. But I do remember glancing up and hearing this.
“He can stay. He can’t stay here.” I was the, “He can’t stay here.” My brother was the, “He can stay.” I was thirty-two years old before I confirmed why I was the, “He can’t stay here.” I wish I could tell you I was the other because I was a problem child. I wasn’t bad at that age. Poor choices and risky behavior came much later. I do not blame anyone but myself.
Thankfully my dad took both of us to “my mom’s mom” to live. Madge was very poor and lived in a home with no running water, no indoor plumbing, a wood stove for cooking, and a pot belly stove for heat. Every night before bedtime she would sit us down on the “big green couch” take her Bible and read Bible stories to us. It was only when I was an adult, I learned she was illiterate and pretended to be reading. She must have memorized many of the Bible stories she read to us.
Sign of the 1970s
My area of expertise is limited to the Exodus, Leviticus, and the Tabernacle of Moses but I understand the sense of rejection. Therefore, I want to tackle a New Testament “sign of rejection.” A warning sign was posted around the perimeter of the courts of Herod’s Temple. The Apostle Paul called it, “the middle wall of partition.”
As I completed my background study, I was reminded of the song, “Signs,” (1) from my teenage years. It was recorded in 1971 by the Five Man Electrical Band! Yes, you guessed it. The song is from a different millennium and century!
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?
Separation of the Holy from the Unholy
Yes, there was a sign (Soreg) posted around the Temple area was a sign telling certain people to stay out. Do not enter. Violators are subject to death. But the warning primarily applied to Gentiles. Therefore, the warning was inscribed either in Greek or Latin. This is the “middle wall of separation” that the Apostle Paul comments on in his circular letter to the Ephesians.
The “middle wall of separation” (Cheil) is a fence made of latticework (2) surrounding the Temple structure that acted as a physical and psychological barrier preventing non-Jews from entering certain areas of the Temple grounds. The barrier’s primary purpose was to maintain the purity laws that applied to the Temple rituals. This architectural addition to the Temple complex came about when access to the Temple grounds was granted to Gentiles. Yet, although Gentiles were welcome to the house of prayer, they remained restricted to certain areas. Speaking in contemporary terms, “Your offerings are accepted but you are not because you are not one of us!”
3 Levels of Holiness
The Cheil reminds me of the white linen fence of the Mishkan that separated the sanctified or designated holy space from the profane or common area outside the Mishkan. The original purpose of the white linen fence surrounding the Tabernacle and the Cheil constructed around the Temple was to maintain the purity laws. It was a visual way of establishing sacred space. The Tabernacle had three levels of sacredness.
Photo Terry Harman, 2008
The first level of sanctity was the outer court which contained the altar of burnt sacrifice and the copper laver for washing. The second level of sanctity was the holy place with the table of showbread, menorah, and the golden altar of incense. The third level of sanctity and the most sacred space was the holy of holies where the ark of the covenant was protected, and access was only granted solely to the high priest and limited to one time a year. These three levels of sanctity were continued in the Temple. However, a low-level wall was erected instead of a white linen fence (Cheil) to distinguish the common from the sacred space. The rub for the Apostle Paul? The “sign” or Soreg was posted at intervals threatening death to Gentiles who wandered beyond a certain point.
Signs of Our Times
On the one hand, signs may protect us or offer information such as “rest area one mile,” “One Way,” Winding Road,” or “Poison.” On the other hand, there are signs erected which are intended to be to divide and separate. “You do not belong here,” or “You cannot come inside here.” We may not always use a visual symbol, or a sign to distinguish who is in and who is out. Often there are more subtle ways of creating tension, separation, and rejection between peoples, religions, beliefs, and ideas. Our country is a living example of division. Lord, save us from ourselves!
After King Herod reconstructed the Temple in Jerusalem from 19 to 9 B.C., he added colonnades to enclose the outer court. This space, known as the Court of the Gentiles, was accessible to individuals of any race or religion who were not Jewish. Gentiles could freely move within the courtyard. They were strictly prohibited from entering any of the inner courts.
Cheil and Soreg
The “middle wall of partition” or the balustrade functioned as a perimeter fence (Cheil) that kept Gentiles from accidentally wandering into the designated holy areas. Limestone warning signs (Soreg) in both Greek and Latin were posted to alert visitors that intruding into sanctified spaces could result in the death penalty.
The historian Josephus also mentions this inscription in his work, Wars of the Jews: “When you go through these [first] cloisters, unto the second [court of the] temple, there was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits: its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that "no foreigner should go within that sanctuary."(3) The Roman government allowed the Jewish authorities to administer the death penalty, even for Roman citizens found guilty of the offense.
Photo Terry Harman, 2020 Courtesy of Mishkan Galleries Dr. David Hamilton
A limestone block (Soreg) with engraved lettering, was discovered in Jerusalem in 1871, measuring approximately 22 inches high and 33 inches long. Each letter stands nearly 1.5 inches tall, was carved into the limestone, and then painted red to draw attention to its warning.
I am blessed and fortunate to work within different camps as I teach about the Tabernacle of Moses. It seems to be an area of commonality and interest among groups across a wide theological spectrum. But my day job is counseling alcoholics, addicts, and their families. I hear their questions about spiritual matters. Many are hungry but are leery of entering our churches or synagogues. They fear being judged and feeling like “the other.”
Today, our synagogues and churches do not necessarily put-up signs saying, “Stay out. You are not welcome.” Yet we have our “signs” of who is in and who is out. Often these are barriers for those in our communities searching for the divine, looking for purpose and meaning. Seeking redemption, restoration, and renewal. The needs are great. Barriers are many. The task can feel overwhelming. Hillel said, If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when? (4) and “It is not up to you to finish the task, but you are not free to avoid it.” (5) Let us commit ourselves this week to look for opportunities to reach out to “the other,” talk to “the other,” and learn from “the other.”
I am not a New Testament scholar. I’ll leave room for my Greek language readers to provide further clarity. But I believe I am on solid ground by sharing the bottom line for the Apostle Paul and the “middle wall of partition” and different social standings, religious backgrounds, and ethnicities.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free,
there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:28 NKJV
Photo Terry Harman, 2020 Courtesy of Mishkan Galleries Dr. David Hamilton
1 Five Man Electrical Band, "Signs," Capitol Records, 1971.
2 Mishnah Middot 74; Kelim i. 8
3 Josephus, Flavius. "The Wars of the Jews, Book 5." Early Jewish Writings,
4 Hillel the Elder. "Pirkei Avot 1:14." The Mishnah. Translated by Herbert Danby, Hendrickson
Publishers, 2011, p. 513.
5 Hillel the Elder. "Pirkei Avot 2:16." The Mishnah. Translated by Herbert Danby, Hendrickson
Publishers, 2011, p. 527.