It is a common complaint that our society, always in a hurry, lacks respect for that which was once respected. People no longer dress their best to go to the theater, nor are they particularly careful about the language that they use. One can readily see this societal change in the very casual way people dress for work. Lack of respect may be demonstrated through one’s clothes or speech, haste or slovenliness, and even something as simple as a walking itinerary.
In a rush to get to our next destination, one may not think twice about where one walks. After all, it is natural to seek a short-cut, but, as with so many aspects of life, the sages required that a person think twice about the actual path a person wishes to take. For instance, what if the place one wishes to cut through is now, or once was, a synagogue?
According to the sages, “It should not be used as a short cut...as if one were to say, ‘Instead of going round the block, I will go through here.’ Rabbi Abbahu said: If a road passed through there originally [before the synagogue was built], it is permitted” (Talmud Megilla 28a).
This rule applies, of course, to active synagogues as well, and it demonstrates the Torah’s respect for places of holiness. This may seem a trivial point on the surface, but its significance can be demonstrated by the fact that Rabbi Eleazar Ben Shammua included never having used a synagogue as a short-cut as one of the reasons for his long life (Talmud Sotah 39a).
*Shul is the Yiddish term for a synagogue.
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