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Kiddush Hashem: Sanctifying God's Name (Part 1 of 2)

Adapted by Aviad Hacohen

Translated by David Silverberg


I. The Foundation and Source of the Mitzva

            The mitzva of "kiddush Hashem" (literally, "sanctifying God's Name") and the prohibition of "chillul Hashem" (literally, "desecrating God's Name") appear in several contexts.  In Parashat Emor, the Torah commands us:

You shall observe My commandments and perform them: I am God.  You shall not desecrate My holy Name, and I shall be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people - I am God who sanctifies you. (Vayikra 22:32-33)

These verses clearly express the dual quality of this concept.  On the one hand, there is a mitzva to sanctify God's Name to the point where "I shall be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people."  Chazal understood that the general clause in the first verse, "You shall observe My commandments," does not automatically result in God's being "sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people."  Rather, this latter clause constitutes a specific obligation in its own right.  On the other hand, beside this obligation stands the prohibition against chillul Hashem: "You shall not desecrate My holy Name."

II. The Content of the Mitzva

            The Torah provides no detail or explanation as to what this "desecration" entails.  The gemara (Yoma 86a), without precisely defining the term "chillul Hashem," does provide some examples.  This discussion arises in the context of the issue of "chilukei kappara," the means by which one achieves atonement for various categories of transgressions (a topic that appears in several contexts in Chazal).  The gemara presents a scale reflecting a certain hierarchy of sins.  It emerges from the presentation in this gemara that chillul Hashem occupies the most stringent level and is punishable by the most severe punishment.  The gemara then says:

What is an example of chillul Hashem?

Rav said, "If one such as I were to take meat from the butcher and not pay immediately."

Abayei said, "This applies only in a place where [storekeepers] do not charge [on credit, and instead all customers pay at the counter].  However, in places where they do charge [on credit], there is no concern."

Rabbi Yochanan said, "If one such as I were to walk four cubits without Torah or tefillin."

Yitzchak of the school of Rabbi Yanai said, "Anyone whose friends are embarrassed because of his bad reputation."

Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchak said, "Such as one about whom people say, 'May his Creator forgive him for his actions.'"

Abayei said, "As the beraita states: 'You shall love the Lord your God' (Devarim 6:5) - [meaning, that] the Name of God shall become beloved on your account, that one should read [the Torah], study and serve Torah scholars and his dealings with people shall be conducted pleasantly.  What do people say about him?  'Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah; fortunate is his rabbi who taught him Torah; woe unto the people who do not study Torah!  So-and-so, who studied Torah - see how pleasant are his ways, how refined is his conduct!'  About him the verse states, 'He said to me, you are My servant, Yisrael - that through you I am glorified' (Yeshayahu 49:3). 

But one who reads [the Torah], studies and serves Torah scholars, and does not deal honestly or speak pleasantly with people, what do people say about him?  'Woe unto so-and-so who studied Torah; woe unto his father who taught him Torah; woe unto his rabbi who taught him Torah!  So-and-so, who studied Torah - see how corrupt is his conduct and how reprehensible are his manners!'  About him the verse states, '… in that it was said of them, these are the people of God, yet they had to leave His land' (Yechezkel 36:20)."

            As mentioned, this gemara does not provide a definition, but it presents several concrete examples.  The most blatant characteristic towards the end of this passage is clearly the emphasis placed on matters not necessarily identified with mitzva observance.  If one studies Torah and serves Torah scholars, but he does not get along with people or does not conduct business honestly - we can reach the unfortunate conclusion that his attachment to Torah and mitzvot does not enrich him, but does precisely the opposite.

            A certain direction appears here in the gemara, which involves mainly the impression one makes.  To what extent does one increase the public's appreciation of and reverence for "the Name of God," for a life of Torah and mitzvot?  Afterwards, the gemara relates to the level of this impact.

            On one level, a particularly severe level, stands the person who does not deal honestly with people.  This demand can be placed upon not only exceptional people, but upon anyone connected to, and identified with, the world of Torah and mitzvot. 

            Beyond this, Rav speaks of those of high stature whose identification with Torah and mitzvot is unique.  From them we expect and demand more, and thus they are potentially more prone to the transgression of chillul Hashem.  If an ordinary person is late in paying his bills, it isn't so terrible.  But Rav, among the greatest Amoraim of his time, we would expect to pay immediately so as to avoid any stains on his reputation or on that of the world he represents.

            In any event, the gemara clearly does not intend to restrict the prohibition of chillul Hashem to these specific examples.  In fact, this category clearly includes more severe cases, actions that besmirch the world of Torah and the world of ahavat Hashem, which are represented by the individual identifying himself as religious.

            In any event, the gemara here relates to this aspect, one's public awareness.  The prohibition is not limited to this aspect, though it focuses on it.  An act that one could, perhaps, justify when performed in private may qualify as a chillul Hashem when committed publicly.  The dark banner of chillul Hashem then waives over such conduct.          

III. The Unique Severity of the Prohibition

***        In many instances, the problem arises not with regard to the phenomenon itself, but to the "public relations" issue involved.  One mustn't disregard this issue, of "what people say about him."  People tend to reach, based on one's conduct, conclusions concerning the content and meaning of Torah study and avodat Hashem and their impact upon one's personality.

            Nevertheless, from a strictly halakhic perspective, we may assume that the unique severity of this prohibition of chillul Hashem lies not in this external, public relations issue, but in another matter.  Commenting on the verse, "You shall not desecrate My holy Name," (Vayikra 22:33) Rashi explains, "by intentionally violating My word."  One who intentionally violates the Torah desecrates God's Name.  Rashi does not specify as to the particular transgression of which he speaks.  If we take his comments to refer to intentional violations in the broadest sense, then this constitutes a very considerable stringency.

            Generally speaking, in both halakhic jargon as well as common vernacular, the term "meizid" used here by Rashi stands in contrast to the word, "shogeg," unintentional violation.  May we, then, conclude from Rashi that whenever a person violates the Torah with full awareness of his actions, not as a result of forgetfulness or misinformation, he has effectively "desecrated the Name of Hashem?"

            It is difficult to say categorically that this is not the case.  Generally, however, we associate the severity of chillul Hashem with exceptional cases of a harsh and severe claim against a perpetrator, rather than "routine" sins, even those violated intentionally.

IV. The Rambam's Rulings

            In the Rambam's work we find a more comprehensive categorization.  The Rambam addresses this topic in several different contexts: Sefer Ha-mitzvot (lo ta'aseh 63), his magnum opus - the Mishneh Torah, as well as Iggeret Ha-shmad and his article on kiddush Hashem.  The differing nuances between the three sources notwithstanding, he presents the same general structure in each.

            In the fifth chapter of Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah, the Rambam opens with the positive side, the mitzva of kiddush Hashem:

The entire House of Yisrael is commanded in the sanctification of this Great Name, as it says, "I shall be sanctified in the midst of Israelite people," and admonished not to desecrate it, as it says, "You shall not desecrate My holy Name."  How does this apply?  When a gentile arises and forces a Jew to either violate any one of all the mitzvot of the Torah or be killed, he should violate [the given mitzva] rather than be killed, as it says regarding the mitzvot, "which a person performs and lives by them:" "and lives by them" - and not "die by them."

            However, the Rambam qualifies this principle and writes that in certain situations it does not apply.  Regarding the three severe transgressions of murder, idolatry and adultery the halakha requires "yeihareg ve-al ya'avor," that one give his life rather than commit the sin.  This principle is also suspended during the harsh conditions of a "tekufat ha-shemad," a period of religious persecution, when every detail becomes a focal point for an ideological struggle.  Finally, one must surrender his life rather than violate a transgression publicly.  The Rambam (5:4) writes that when a person in these extraordinary situations withstands this difficult trial, he has sanctified God's Name; otherwise, he has desecrated it.

            Violation of the three severe transgressions does not require a public setting to constitute a chillul Hashem.  If one even privately worshipped an idol, engaged in a forbidden sexual relationship or murdered, he has desecrated God's Name for not allowing himself to be killed rather than commit the given act.  If this occurred in the presence of ten Jews, then he has brought about a public desecration of God's Name.  He has thus violated the prohibition against chillul Hashem and failed to observe the mitzva of kiddush Hashem.

            This describes the first level: the ultimate test that a person must withstand.  His life is demanded of him, and he must choose whether to sacrifice himself for the mitzva and avodat Hashem under these circumstances when the Torah requires him to give his life, or, out of weakness and under coercion, to succumb to his oppressors.

            In halakha 10 of that same chapter, the Rambam comes to the second level:

Whoever willingly violates, without coercion, any of the mitzvot stated in the Torah contemptuously, in order to anger, has desecrated God's Name.  It therefore says regarding false oaths, "You will thus have desecrated the Name of your God; I am Hashem."  If one violated [in this manner] in the presence of ten Jews, he has desecrated the Name publicly.  Similarly, whoever refrains from a transgression or performs a mitzva for no ulterior purpose - not out of fear, not out of apprehension, not to seek honor, but strictly because of the Creator, like Yosef Ha-tzadik's refraining from his master's wife, he has sanctified the Name.

            Here we find a point that could perhaps parallel that which we saw earlier, in Rashi's comments, only with a different formulation.  According to Rashi, one who commits a transgression intentionally, as opposed to inadvertently, has violated the prohibition of chillul Hashem.  The Rambam, however, posits a different approach.  He does not distinguish between inadvertent and intentional violations, but rather speaks of committing sins "contemptuously."  There are those who violate the Torah intentionally but "le-tei'avon," to satiate a given appetite, to satisfy a desire.  But one who does so "contemptuously," or "le-hakh'is" (with specific intention to anger), has desecrated God's Name.

V. "Contemptuously, in Order to Anger"

            We should point out, parenthetically, that the Rishonim present two basic approaches as to the precise definition of one who violates "in order to anger": the individual either expresses a negative approach towards the mitzva and the One who issued the command, or shows indifference towards the sin committed.  The Rambam implies that he adopted the first approach, considering an act le-hakh'is only if it is performed "contemptuously" ("bi-she'at nefesh"), not if it was perpetrated "merely" out of apathy for the act and its results.  He writes in Sefer Ha-mitzvot (lo ta'aseh 63; p.113 in Rabbi Chayim Heller's edition):

The second component [of chillul Hashem] includes as well a transgression a person commits for which he has no desire and from which he derives no benefit, but he intended through his action to rebel and remove the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.  This one, too, desecrates the Name of God and is punished by lashes.  It therefore says, "Do not swear falsely by My Name, as you will have thus desecrated the Name of your God," for such a person intends to anger through this matter, deriving no physical benefit from this.

Thus, for one to be deemed a violator le-hakh'is, committing a sin from which he derives no benefit does not suffice.  His act must be accompanied by "an intention to rebel and remove the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven," as Chazal write about Nimrod, that "he knew his Master and intended to rebel against Him" (Rashi, Bereishit 10:9; this has been attributed as well to the people of Sedom - Rashi, Bereishit 13:13, Vayikra 26:14, and elsewhere).

VI. Chillul Hashem Through a False Oath

            We should also note parenthetically that with regard to one point the Rambam here appears to contradict his own comments in other contexts.  In the aforementioned passages in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah and Sefer Ha-mitzvot, the Rambam explained the a false oath constitutes a chillul Hashem.  As one derives no benefit from it, he clearly commits such a crime "contemptuously, in order to anger."  It thus serves as the archetype of the Rambam's second category of chillul Hashem, and for this reason the Torah writes in this context, "you will have desecrated the Name of your God."

            This itself requires explanation: can we not think of many reasons why a person would swear falsely?  There are many possible motives: to save oneself, to earn the indebtedness of another, to avoid a financial obligation, etc.  All these clearly fall under the category of le-tei'avon, transgressions committed for one's benefit, and yet are included within the framework of false oaths.

            In Hilkhot Shavuot 12:1, the Rambam addresses the particular severity of false oaths without mentioning this dimension of contempt and specific intention to anger.  He points rather to its specific nature:

Although one who swears for naught or falsely is whipped, and likewise one who [falsely] took the witnesses' oath or an oath denying having received a deposit brings a sacrifice, the entire sin concerning the oath is not atoned for them, as it says, "God will not cleanse," meaning, it has no cleansing from divine judgment until he is punished for his having desecrated the Great Name, as it says, "You will have thus desecrated the Name of your God, I am Hashem."  One must therefore exercise care to avoid this sin, more so than other sins.

This sin ranks among the severe transgressions, as we explained in Hilkhot Teshuva.  Even though it has no punishment of karet or death penalty by the court, it constitutes a desecration of the sacred Name, which is more severe than all other sins.

            Clearly, the Rambam here attributes the severity of swearing falsely to the affront to God's Name.  By its very essence, an oath (to be halakhically defined as such) requires the association of a Name of God.  A person who simply states, "I will do such-and-such" has uttered a legally neutral statement without any binding force or authority.  Thus, anytime a person takes a vow he employs "Shem Shamayim" (a Name of God).  To the extent to which he has sworn falsely, he has associated God's Name with falsehood, using it for an inappropriate purpose and assimilating it within the realm of falsehood.  From here stems the particular severity of this crime.

VII. Chillul Hashem Directed Against Other People

            However, as noted earlier, this is not the implication of the Rambam in the fifth chapter of Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah.  In halakha 11 of this chapter, the Rambam addresses as well the examples of chillul Hashem mentioned in the gemara in Masekhet Yoma:

There are other things included under chillul Hashem when performed by someone great in Torah and renowned for his piety, things for which people murmur about him.  Even though they are not themselves sins, he has nevertheless desecrated God's Name.  For example: he made a purchase and did not pay immediately… or he indulges in frivolity or eating and drinking with and among ignorant people, or if he speaks unpleasantly with people and does not greet them with a pleasant countenance, but is rather a person of quarreling and anger, or similar matters, all depending on the scholar's stature.  He must be very exacting with himself and go beyond the strict letter of the law.

            The Rambam thus speaks in this chapter of three different categories of chillul Hashem, to which he adds a fourth category in Hilkhot Shavuot:

1. Chillul Hashem through a violation in a situation when one is to sacrifice his life rather than transgress;

2. Chillul Hashem that flows from the unique quality of a sin committed "contemptuously, in order to anger";

3. Chillul Hashem through certain transgressions, such as swearing falsely, that require one to invoke God's Name in order to facilitate the sin, thereby offending the Name he uses;

4. Chillul Hashem that expresses itself in certain actions which lead to murmuring.

Regarding the fourth type, the Rambam indeed speaks - following the gemara in Yoma - of "someone great in Torah and renowned for his piety" and a certain level of unacceptable and inappropriate conduct that does not involve a specific transgression.  However, the principle established by that gemara, a type of chillul Hashem that relates to the impression created and the affront to God's Name and His Torah's reputation, may very well apply even to ordinary people, albeit on a different level.

            It is possible that when an ordinary person - as opposed to a leading Torah scholar - does not pay his bills immediately or does not greet somebody warmly, he does not bring about a chillul Hashem.  Regarding other types of behavior, however, such as deceit, to the extent to which the individual is identified as knowledgeable in Torah or as a standard-bearer of Torah, his conduct constitutes a chillul Hashem, beyond the actual transgression itself.



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