parsha of the week

Sanctifying the name of G-d


After introducing us to the concepts of not bringing an animal as an offering before it is eight days old, and after telling us that the animal and its parent (Rashi distinguishes between the animal’s mother and father) cannot be slaughtered on the same day, the Torah tells us that we must keep G-d’s commandments. And — “You shall not desecrate My holy name, and I should be sanctified among the children of Israel” (22:32).

In the Sefer HaChinuch, the author divides this verse into two commandments, one against desecrating G-d’s name (“making a chillul Hashem”), and one promoting the sanctification of the same (“making a kiddush Hashem”). 

He depicts the desecration of G-d’s name on three levels: the first involves violating a very serious commandment when enemies are pushing one to do so; the second involves violating a sin that is just meant to cause anger or angst (such as lying in court); and the third is simply not behaving in a way that gives people a good flavor for Jewish people and therefore for the G-d we claim to represent — such as promising to pay someone and not following through quickly. 

Rabbeinu Bachaye describes chillul Hashem as one of the most serious violations a Jew can commit. Even Yom Kippur does not atone for the desecration of G-d’s name!

However, Rabbeinu Bachaye does give a way to atone for what one has desecrated, and that is the second half of our verse. Sanctify G-d’s name in a manner opposite the method and form of desecration — that overturns the desecration of G-d’s name. Proverbs 16:6 notes that with “kindness and truth sins can be atoned for…”

Bringing the example of Chananya, Mishael and Azariah from the book of Daniel, he notes, quoting the Sifra (9:4) that sanctification of G-d must come from a place where one is not expecting anything, but on the contrary, is ready to die for one’s beliefs. The reason Chananya, Mishael and Azariah are viewed as they are is because they were not expecting to be saved from a fiery furnace. They were ready to give up their lives rather than submit to the heresies in which they were being forced to participate. 

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky asked an interesting question on this subject: how could people in the Middle Ages, Crusades, and Inquisition, who gave up their lives for G-d’s name, justify taking the lives of their children as well? The children were not obligated to give up their lives at that age!

He answered that had the children been spared, they would have been taken by their enemies (assuming they would not have been killed) and would have been raised in a manner equivalent to a forced conversion, which would be a desecration of G-d’s name — Jewish children being raised against the holy teachings of the Torah.

May we never be faced with the challenge of giving up our lives for G-d’s name. But would we be prepared to do so?

Every time I see Jews fighting over ideology, politics, life choices, I wonder if we have lost sight of the bigger picture. We are in this Jewish life together, we all have the same job to sanctify G-d’s name, and when we forget that, we cause fighting in our own ranks, which is a bigger chillul Hashem than the chillul Hashem we think we are preventing.

Let us remember that the enemies of the Jewish people think our very existence is a chillul Hashem. They think the state of Israel is a chillul Hashem. They think a chassid wearing chassidic garb is a chillul Hashem. They think a Jew owning a bank is a chillul Hashem. They think a Jew asking for rent to be paid on time is a chillul Hashem.

Obviously, these kinds of thoughts from people who hate Jews no matter what are irrelevant to the discussion. Our job is to be good, honest people, to represent G-d honorably. If we are not doing that, then we are certainly desecrating G-d’s name in the eyes of those who may want to judge us favorably.

Those who hate us don’t need an excuse. We should go above and beyond our emotions to remember that strife and hatred towards our fellow Jews is the biggest chillul Hashem we can commit. We give fodder to those who want to see us and our G-d as undeserving of respect.

We owe it to ourselves and to G-d to rise above internal strife. Issues can be discussed, compromises can be reached. But hating another Jew is desecrating G-d’s holy name.