Willing to Live for What You Believe In
“And you shall keep My Mitzvot and do them: I am the Lord. Neither shall you profane My Holy name, but I will be sanctified (‘Venikdashti’) among the Children of Israel: I am the Lord who makes you holy; who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God, I am the Lord.” (Vayikra, 22: 31-33)
This verse introduces us to the subject of Chillul Hashem (profaning God’s name) and Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying God’s name.)
The Gemara in Yoma 86a first discusses the severity of Chillul Hashem. It deals with man’s accountability and responsibility for his actions and his ultimate objective of atonement. Each group of actions is mentioned in regressive order.
First, when a person fails to fulfill positive commandments, he is required to do Teshuva alone; his fault is essentially passive inactivity, and his cure is a turnaround in his basic approach to life.
This is followed by the person who fails to observe basic negative commandments. In this scenario, Teshuva suspends punishment and Yom Kippur procures atonement. Since there has been active negativity, a more rigorous program is required.
The next classification is those who are guilty of transgressing severe negative commandments punishable by divine excommunication (Karet) or death through the Beit Din. In these cases, Teshuva and Yom Kippur suspend punishment, and suffering completes the atonement procedure.
However, the fourth and most severe transgression is Chillul Hashem:
“…if he is guilty of Chillul Hashem, then penitence has no power to suspend punishment, nor Yom Kippur to procure atonement, nor suffering to complete it, but all of them together suspend the punishment and only death completes the process of expiation.”
Desecrating God’s Name is considered even more severe than transgressions carrying the death penalty!
But what exactly is Chillul Hashem?
“Rav said: For example, if I take meat from the butcher and do not immediately pay him. Abaye (qualifying Rav’s statement) explains it would only be regarded as profanation when the buyer is expected to come and pay directly, but when credit is offered and the butcher periodically visits his customers to collect payment, there would be no need to pay immediately.
… Rabbi Yochanan said: In my case it is a profanation if I walk four cubits without uttering words of Torah or wearing Tefillin.
Yitzchak of the school of Rav Yannai, said: it is a Chillul Hashem if one’s colleagues are ashamed of his reputation.
If someone studies Scripture and Mishna, serves the disciples of the wise, is honest in business and speaks pleasantly to people, what do people say about him? Happy the father who taught him Torah; happy the teacher who taught him Torah. Woe unto people who have not studied Torah, for this man has studied the Torah – look how fine his ways are; see how righteous his deeds are.
But if someone studies Scripture and Mishna and serves the disciples of the wise but is dishonest in business, and discourteous in his relations with people, what do people say about him? Woe unto him who studied the Torah; woe unto his father who taught him Torah; woe unto his teacher who taught him Torah! This man studied the Torah – look how corrupt his deeds are, how ugly his ways are!”
The first few examples in the Gemara offer some unique definitions of Chillul Hashem. Each Rabbi offers a subjective classification of Chillul Hashem. For example, it is not clear that Chillul Hashem in the case of Abaye would be Chillul Hashem if perpetrated by Rabbi Yochanan and vice-versa.
The Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah emphasizes this very point. He says if a person is considered important in the eyes of the community due to his greatness in Torah, he is duty bound to bear this in mind in everything he does.
Indeed, the final paragraph quoted from the Gemara reminds us we are all ambassadors of the Almighty, even if we are not in the same category as Gedolei Yisrael. Once we are identified as being religious, we no longer only represent ourselves. We represent Am Yisrael, and the Almighty Himself.
So when considering our actions we must first recognize who we are and how others perceive us, and consequently what they expect from us. Sometimes we must go well beyond the letter of the law because we represent an ideal.
Even when we are provoked, annoyed or surprised, we must still remember our ambassadorial responsibilities. Whereas we may be forgiven for reacting naturally to unnecessary provocation or to annoying or saddening circumstance, we must also take into account that the innocent bystander is unaware of the whole picture, and could easily interpret our behavior as arrogance, insensitivity or aggression. We must be so aware of who we are that we naturally do what is often considered unnatural.
For example, when religious people see the need to demonstrate publicly, we must do so as ambassadors of Hashem. There can be no justification for rioting or fighting. We are representing the ‘culture’ of Torah; we are products of years of learning and our actions must reflect that truth. And if they don’t, we must ask ourselves some telling questions.
This is a serious commitment. It means we not only consider what is right and wrong for ourselves on an individual basis, but we must also understand the implication of our actions from a national and religious perspective too.
I was enthused to discover recently that before Vishnitz chassidic children go on a trip, they are given a list of detailed directives – written by the Rebbe himself – that require a level of behavior befitting believing Jews. The pamphlet discusses cleanliness, politeness, and requires all participants to act with love and care for any fellow Jew they may meet during their excursion.
As the Talmud emphasizes, this is all the more important in areas of business and finance. A religious Jew is expected to be both just and honest. When a Jew with a kippa on his head walks into a business meeting, he is not only representing his company, but God Himself. If he behaves as a true member of Am Yisrael should, God is duly sanctified; but if he fails to do so, there can be no measure of the spiritual damage he incurs as an individual and as an ambassador of God.
The casual observer may be overwhelmed by these seemingly unreasonable demands of Halacha. How can a person be expected to constantly be aware of what he represents? How can Halacha demand a constant regard for public perception?
In truth, Kiddush Hashem and Chillul Hashem are with us all the time, and there is almost no scenario in public or even private life where they do not apply.
Yes, we must always endeavor to sanctify God’s name, but to do so effectively we must possess something else. A deep, internal, all-encompassing belief that His laws are true. We do not have to leave the house in the morning looking for Kiddush Hashem opportunities; we do what we believe in, and because our beliefs are the essence of who we are as Jews, we reflect them in all we do. And that itself becomes a Kiddush Hashem.
If our public acts do not reflect what people assume observant Jews to be it is a Chillul Hashem because it exposes our lack of real truth. Our bodies have not yet made peace with our souls.
Kiddush Hashem is an external expression of an internal reality. If someone sets an example for the sake of setting an example it remains superficial. Similarly, when we are perceived as representatives of Judaism, we are not acting. We do not perform the action just because it is a Kiddush Hashem, but rather because we truly believe in what we represent; we do it because that is exactly who we are. When we truly believe in what we do it engulfs our entire being, and when our Judaism engulfs our entire being we are constantly aware of who we are and the Kiddush Hashem flows as naturally as a mountain stream.
The real difficulty in understanding the concept of Kiddush Hashem only arises if we do not fully understand our role in this world, or if we do not truly believe in what we seem to represent. Once we fully comprehend that our Avodat Hashem is an all- encompassing reality, there will be no difference whatsoever between putting on Tefillin and behaving correctly in the street. It is only when we see Kiddush Hashem as a separate reality does it become so difficult to fulfill.
That is why the most famous example of Kiddush Hashem is the willingness to give up one’s life for the sake of one’s beliefs. There is nothing more precious than life itself. If a human being is prepared to give up the most precious thing he has for a particular set of beliefs or values, there can be no greater testimony of his faith.
When a Jew walks to his death in Ponar reciting the Shema it is the ultimate Kiddush Hashem. The man holds his composure; they have systematically stolen everything from him: his business, his house, his loved ones; even his clothes, yet he walks upright to his death reaffirming his belief in the Almighty. It is not his act that is a Kiddush Hashem, it is he himself; his entire being is a sanctification of God’s Name. All he has ever done in his life; his countless prayers, his many Shabbatot, his entire spiritual being culminates in this one event. His prayers were not mere words uttered by rote; he expresses outwardly who he really is inside. And that is absolute sanctification.
When Major Ro’i Klein, a 31-year old soldier and father of two small boys, is in Lebanon advancing with his troops, a grenade falls right in front them. It’s a group of more than 20 soldiers and there will inevitably be injuries and fatalities. But this courageous Jew purposely falls on the grenade whilst simultaneously reciting Shema Yisrael… It is not the action per se that is a Kiddush Hashem, but Ro’i himself, may God bless his memory.
All his years of learning, all the shiurim, the discussions, the dilemmas, culminate in this one moment of choice. He made that choice and gave his life so that others may live. He died with his beliefs – God’s words – on his lips.
We could cite thousands of similar examples. Our history is illuminated by Jews who have reached that ultimate spiritual level, the essence of truth. When the moment of reckoning arrived, when the theory needed to be transformed into practice they were true representatives of the Almighty.
And so our verse reads: “And you shall keep My Mitzvot and do them: I am the Lord. Neither shall you profane My Holy name, but I will be sanctified among the Children of Israel.”
You shall keep My Mitzvot, but do so because it is the essence of your being. If you do not truly believe, you will ultimately profane My Name. But if you do; if Judaism engulfs your entire being, then you will surely sanctify My Name!
Do you know what you are prepared to die for? If you do, then that’s what you should be living for!
 Chapter 5, Halacha 11.
 We discussed this in the first sicha on Emor regarding personal example in education. See page ?
 A town near Vilna.