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Kiddush Hashem: Sanctifying God's Name Part 2

Adapted by Aviad Hacohen

Translated by David Silverberg



Part 2

VIII. The Two Sides of Chillul Hashem

            Beyond the categorization discussed, we may speak as well of two different sides of chillul Hashem.  The first is the essential aspect: in certain contexts, a person's actions - such as in the case of a false oath - desecrates God's Name.  The second aspect is more external.  It relates not to the sinful action itself but rather to its result, involving primarily the impression created vis-?-vis God's Kingship.

            One must exercise care in both directions.  First, at times, out of concern for the "public relations" issue, one forgets or ignores altogether the inherent problem and impropriety of the action itself.  It is not infrequently that we confront this spiritual danger.  We are prepared to ignore the wrongdoing of a tax evader, for example, and offer him the honor of Maftir Yona on Yom Kippur, all so that no one will, Heaven forbid, write about him in the secular press, in which case "it will be a chillul Hashem."  Indeed, such publicity would be a catastrophe.  But the catastrophe begins not with the publicizing of the act, but with the act itself.  One must ensure that the wrongful act does not get lost or become forgotten in all the concern for tomorrow's headlines, from the worry over what they will say in this city or that city.  We may never forget the need for keen awareness of values and morals.

            The second direction of which we must be aware relates to the inherent significance of the external impression created.  When we speak of the "impression," of "what will they say," we tend not to afford too much importance to the issue itself.  What does it matter to us what they say in Shanghai?  We live in our world, so why should we care about what this one or the other says on a television program?  The essence is of far greater importance than the image.  Do we really need a "positive image?"  Are we shoe salesmen, that we must worry about the image of our "product?"

            And yet, we find even in the halakhic realm concern for this element of "what will they say," of the image, and we must not disregard it.  One of the main sources for this concept, for the positive side, is a wide array of verses that speak of the need to disseminate God's word throughout the entire world.  Take, for example, one of the central verses in hallel: "From east to west the Name of God is praised."  This verse points to the inherent significance of the praising of God's Name.  We find indications to this effect in the Torah, as well.  In his plea on behalf of Benei Yisrael after the incident of the golden calf, Moshe Rabbenu raises the argument of "Let not the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that He delivered them, only to kill them off in the mountains and annihilate them from the face of the earth'" (Shemot 32:12).  Why should it matter to us what the Egyptians say?  Apparently, it does matter.  The verse in Devarim 9:28 speaks in a similar vein: "Lest the country from which You freed us say, 'It was because God was powerless to bring them into the land that He had promised them, and because He rejected them, that He brought them out to have them die in the wilderness."

            How can we reconcile this approach with the attitude of pride and confidence, of extolling our world and values without consideration for "what will they say," that the Almighty will worry about "what the gentiles will say," while we do what we need to do?  The scholars of Mussar stressed this attitude of pride, of Avraham's public performance of the mitzva of mila and Noach's construction of the ark undeterred by scoffers, utterly disregarding what the cynics here or there have to say.  Should it matter to us what cynics say about us?  The main thing is our path, and we must tread it with pride.

            It seems to me that we must draw a clear distinction.  I discuss here not the question of how much weight to afford to the issue of "what will they say," but rather the question of to what extent this concern constitutes a factor to be taken into consideration.  In some instances, those whose reaction we anticipate come from an entirely different frame of reference from ours; their ethics and standards differ fundamentally from ours.  Given the different values and different outlooks, they will react to us with harsh criticism.  What they consider a virtue to us has no importance and at times we even look upon it as a negative value.  For example, an ideological supporter of permissiveness will sharply criticize the world of halakha, which constricts and binds a person's actions at every step.  This type of criticism is founded on certain basic assumptions regarding man, his essence and character, both on the universal level and, much more so, on the Jewish level, in which we can take no part.  According to our approach, there are certain aspects of man's nature that require development and nurturing, while others require restraint.  This type of criticism, which is perhaps accompanied to some extent by "what the Egyptians say" - "Egypt" here serving as the archetype for the general, secular world, represents one sort of problem that can involve a chillul Hashem.

            But there arises an entirely different sort of problem: criticism issued out of a proper moral perspective, whose basic assumptions we share, but the impression created is wrong and misleading.  In such a situation, we must certainly concern ourselves with "what the Egyptians will say" and the chillul Hashem involved.  As the yardsticks forming the basis of the criticism are the correct ones - justice, uprightness, truth and morality, we must afford it significance.

  1. Chillul Hashem within our own Camp

            It is important to emphasize that as opposed to common misconception, the issue of chillul Hashem does not relate only to the impact on those outside, what the gentiles or non-observant communities will say.  It involves a fundamental problem even within our own camp.  I recall hearing as a youngster from my rebbe, Rav Hutner zt"l, that an encounter could take place between Rabbi Akiva Eiger and his son-in-law, the Chatam Sofer, two central pillars of the halakhic world, that could result in a chillul Hashem.  How could this be?

            One aspect of chillul Hashem is lowering the appreciation towards God and His world, the world of Torah and mitzvot and life according to the outlook of Judaism.  If as a result of an encounter between two righteous Jews the impression is left that the actions of one of them is seen by the other as faulty, thus lessening the appreciation for his personality or the world of values he represents - a chillul Hashem has occurred. 

            We must, therefore, be aware and sensitive to this angle, the external, "public relations" aspect, each person in accordance with his stature and particular circumstances.  This thread appears in the gemara in Masekhet Yoma regarding the verse, "You shall love the Lord your God": "that the Name of God shall become beloved through you."  This constitutes part of the mitzva of kiddush Hashem, and the opposite, Heaven forbid, violates the prohibition of chillul Hashem, as it adversely affects God's honor.

            As mentioned earlier, there is another aspect unrelated to the external aspect of "what they will see," but rather latent within the transgression itself.  We saw that the Rambam speaks of the violator who acts "contemptuously, in order to anger."  Similarly, some transgressions, by their very essence, entail desecrating God's Name.  We cannot survey all of them, but we should emphasize that we do not deal only with swearing falsely by which one misuses God's Name, but also with symbols and other elements which closely connect to God's Name.  Take, for example, the following verse from parashat Emor: "Instruct Aharon and his sons that they should separate themselves from the sacred donations of Benei Yisrael that they consecrate to Me, and they shall not desecrate My sacred Name; I am God" (Vayikra 22:2).  This verse refers not to the desecration of kodshim (sacred items consecrated to the Mishkan), which the previous verses address, but rather to the manner of treating them.  One who eats them in a state of ritual impurity denigrates "My sacred Name" that this system of kodshim and the Temple symbolize.  As stated, we do not speak here of the external impression created, but rather of an affront to the inner realm of Torah and mitzvot in the Almighty's world, which translates into an affront to the Almighty Himself, as it were, and to the "Name" - the symbol of the Shekhina's manifestation in our world.

            As I noted earlier, Chazal speak of the unique severity of chillul Hashem.  This appears in several different sources: the Bavli in Masekhet Yoma, the Yerushalmi, the Tosefta, and Torat Kohanim.  The Rambam, at the end of the first chapter of Hilkhot Teshuva, address this issue amidst his discussion of four types of atonement:

When is this so [that repentance and punishments yield atonement]?  When the individual did not desecrate God's Name at the time when he committed the violation.  But one who desecrates the Name, then even if he repents, Yom Kippur arrives, he remains repentant and punishments come upon him, he is not granted full atonement until he dies.  Instead, repentance, Yom Kippur, and punishments - the three of them hold him in abeyance and death atones, as it says, "Then the Lord of Hosts revealed Himself to my ears: this iniquity shall never be forgiven you until you die."

Are we to conclude, then, on the basis of the gemara in Yoma, that if a certain person does not greet his neighbor nicely he does not achieve full atonement for this sin until he dies?  A Torah scholar who does not pay his telephone bill on time is not forgiven until he dies?!

            It emerges from the Rambam's comments that although he indeed views these actions with gravity, they are not included among those misdeeds for which only death can atone.  In Hilkhot Teshuva the Rambam emphasizes that the unique severity expresses itself when the individual desecrates the Name "at the time when he committed the violation," when he perpetrated the given act.  He thus speaks of actions which themselves constitute transgressions, rather than of the fourth category mentioned earlier, those actions which do not themselves violate any prohibition but can result in a chillul Hashem (Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 5:11).

            In other words, the Rambam here speaks of the first category, of sins such as idolatry and murder, which a person violated under the threat of death.  This gives rise to a difficulty of sorts in this regard.  According to the Rambam, in such a case where a person under coercion violates one of these three severe transgressions, he is not liable for punishment at the hand of the Bet-Din, since he committed the act under coercion.  Although the halakha requires him to sacrifice his life rather than commit these acts, he is nevertheless not subject to punishment should he fail to withstand this trial of self-sacrifice.  We may reasonably assume, then, that the severity of "this iniquity shall never be forgiven you until you die" would likewise not apply in such a case.

            It therefore stands to reason that in Hilkhot Teshuva the Rambam deals with the middle case, the second category mentioned above, consisting of misdeeds performed "contemptuously, in order to anger."  He refers to one who rebels against Divine Kingship not to satisfy some desire or as a result of coercion, but in order to subdue, as it were, the Almighty.  Here we speak of chillul Hashem that expresses itself in an inherent, not merely external, affront to God's Kingship.

X. Chillul Hashem as an Affront to Divine Kingship

            Let us take a closer look at the verbs used by the verse: "le-challel," to desecrate something, and, in the positive direction, "le-kadesh," to sanctify something.  We speak here of a process which produces results, that leaves behind footsteps.  It builds sanctity, sets it into the ground, and deepens its roots; or, Heaven forbid, it does the opposite: it detracts from it, chips away at it, and gnaws at its flesh.

            We may assume that the severity of chillul Hashem lies not only in the process itself, but rather in the results.  On the purely halakhic level, and not merely on the mystical level, man possesses the power to exalt God's Name or, God forbid, to lower it.  As daring and paradoxical as this may sound, God's Kingship is a kingship upon which we have the power to impact, and not only on its external status, in terms of how people relate to it, but even inherently.  The Name, as it were, is the reflection of, and the means of achieving, the Almighty's presence in the world, in the midst of all existence, nature and history.

            The Ramban discussed this point, and I believe that this is not the "Kabbalist" within him who speaks to us but rather the Ramban as scholar of the "revealed" wisdom.  The gemara in Yoma and the Rambam at the end of the fifth chapter of Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah say the following regarding the positive side, one who works to sanctify the Name of God:

… to the point where everyone lauds him, loves him, and yearns to follow his actions - he has sanctified the Name, and about him the verse states, "He said to me, 'You are My servant, Yisrael - that through you I am glorified.'"

            The following verse appears towards the end of parashat Tetzaveh, in the context of the construction of the Mishkan:

I will dwell in the midst of Benei Yisrael, and I will be for them a God.  They will know that I am Hashem your God who took them from the land of Egypt to dwell their midst - I am God. (Shemot 29:45-46)

What does it mean that God took us from Egypt "to dwell in their midst?"  Rashi explains that herein lies the very purpose of the Exodus from Egypt.  The Ramban there cites this explanation and contrasts it with that offered by the Ibn Ezra:

But Rabbi Avraham [Ibn Ezra] said that [the verse should be read], "I took them from the land of Egypt only for Me, that I may dwell in their midst," and this is [what is meant in the verse], "You will serve God on this mountain" - and he explained well.  And if this is so, this matter involves a great secret." 

I once again stress that in my mind, the Ramban does not refer here to a "secret" along the lines of Kabbala, but rather in the straightforward sense.  And what is this great secret?  The Ramban continues:

At the simple level it would appear that the Shekhina's residence among Yisrael is for the need of humans, not the need of the divine.  But [in truth,] it is like that which is written, "Yisrael, that through you I am glorified" (Yeshayahu 49:3), and as Yehoshua said, "And what will You do to Your great Name?" (Yehoshua 7:9).  Many verses indicate this: "He desired a residence for Himself" (Tehillim 132:13); "Here I will dwell, for I have desired it" (Tehillim 132:14), and it says, "And I will remember the land" (Vayikra 26:42).

            According to this "great secret," which emerges from the Ibn Ezra's understanding of this verse, "to dwell in their midst," the Shekhina's residence in the Mishkan is intended, as it were, to serve the Almighty.  This resembles Chazal's comment regarding the creation of the world, that "the Almighty desired to make for Himself a residence in the lower spheres."

            That "need" of the Almighty for the Shekhina's residence, as the Ramban writes, relates to the verse in Yeshayahu, "Yisrael - that through you I am glorified."  Wherein lies the connection between the concept developed by the Ramban and this verse?  The Ramban understood that the "glorification" of which Yeshayahu speaks refers not to an external appearance of glory, but rather in the sense of "branching off."  The Hebrew word "pura," which evolves from the term employed by Yeshayahu for "glory" ("pe'er"), often serves as a synonym for "branch": "… will hew off the branches with an ax" ("mesa'ef pura be-ma'aratza" - Yeshayahu 10:33).  Thus, "Yisrael - that through you I am glorified" means that through Benei Yisrael God branches out, expands and solidifies.  Herein lies the "secret" of this verse: the Shekhina's presence in the Mikdash comes to serve not only us, upon whom the Almighty bestows His kindness by residing among us, but it also, as it were, serves the interests of God Himself, to whatever extent we can speak in these terms.  This is what is meant by, "Yisrael - that through you I am glorified."

            This verse, which appears in the gemara in Yoma and serves as a basis for the Rambam's comments, relates to both kiddush Hashem and the Shekhina's presence in the Temple.  This shows that the sanctification of the Name, or, Heaven forbid, its desecration, involves more than positive or negative publicity, the creation of an impression, building a popular image for the Almighty, His world and His values.  Kiddush Hashem means affecting the very essence of that "Shem" (Name), which, as it were, contracts or expands according to our behavior.

            The same concept emerges from a familiar verse in the Book of Shemot (17:16): "Hand upon the Throne of God!  God will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages."  Chazal note the rare use of the shortened Name of God - "Y-H" - in the first clause of this verse, rather than the more common, full Name of four letters.  As Rashi quotes, they explain that "the Almighty swore that His Name is not complete and His Throne is not complete until Amalek's name is entirely eradicated."  This passage expresses the notion of a deficiency in God's Name: there is a "complete Name" and an "incomplete Name."  In a world of evil God's Name is incomplete, whereas in a world of righteousness His Name is complete.  Ultimately, "on that day, God will be one and His Name will be one."

            On the extreme level, the embodiment of evil stands at one pole while the embodiment of righteousness stands at the other.  But this concept applies not only in the extreme, in either direction.  At times we "add" to the Name, while at others, when committing a transgression, we detract from it.  Thus, although we find clear, grounded halakhic models regarding the prohibition against chillul Hashem, we must understand that all this entails something we may view as revolutionary or daring: we, human beings, determine, as it were, the status of God's Name in the world.

            This points to the immense power given to man.  The person living within a physical body is capable of affecting God's Name, to detract from it, to damage it, or to expand it and deepen it.  This granting of power and determination of destiny on one level focus on Benei Yisrael - "Yisrael, that through you I am glorified," while at the same time reflect a universal value, as well.

XI. Chillul Hashem as a Universal Value

            To what extent are gentiles included in the commandment of kiddush Hashem?  The gemara (Sanhedrin 74b) discusses this question but its conclusions are unclear.  In any event, that discussion relates more to the technical plane, focusing on the question as to whether non-Jews must also surrender their lives for certain prohibitions.  While this specific question is thus subject to doubt, we must address not only the formal, technical perspective, but also the fundamental plane, the crowning of God's Name as a destiny, and the detraction or reinforcement of His Name.  Although this is the destiny of Kenesset Yisrael - "Yisrael, that through you I am glorified," this value and this power take on universal significance, as well.

            Would anyone claim that for a gentile no difference exists whatsoever between a sin committed to satisfy a certain desire and one perpetrated "contemptuously, in order to anger?"  Conversely, is there no difference between a gentile who fulfills mitzvot for a profit or to satisfy some desire, or out of fear or intimidation, and one who does so out of love for God, an attachment to Him and sense of submission?

            Correspondingly, a gentile, too, can impact upon the Kingship of Heaven, and there is a difference between a deed performed out of identification and appreciation and one carried out strictly to obey a command.  We have here, if you will, an expression of the humanistic side of Judaism, a humanism which does not, of course, come to lend ultimate authority to the person, such that the human being is defined as the source of authority.  Judaism does not accept this approach any more than other religions do.  Nevertheless, we have here a recognition of man's power and glory.

            On the universal level, immense power is invested in man; on the specific level, immense power is granted to Kenesset Yisrael.  Clearly, this power carries with it responsibility, as expressed in halakha in several contexts.  The more limited man's power, the less we demand from him.  After all, how much can he do as just one small screw in a giant machine?  Conversely, to the extent to which we view man as possessing considerable strength and ability, as owning many keys, we cast upon him greater responsibility.

            The world of Judaism and the outlook upon which that world is based are exceptionally demanding.  Judaism glorifies man and believes in him and his power.  For this very reason it makes demands and poses at times particularly difficult challenges.  It expects him to gird his loins and confront the challenges standing at his doorstep as a responsible creature, a spiritual creature, and a creature of values.

            Chillul Hashem may thus be seen from its two angles.  On the one hand, as we can learn from several areas of halakha, it features concretely defined elements.  We have before us "the halakhot of chillul Hashem" just as we have "the halakhot of hand washing" or "the laws of forbidden foods."  From this perspective, there is room to try to define, arrange and classify the components of the mitzva and prohibition.  There is also another division, between the fundamental elements as to one's way of relating to "the Name," and the external, "foreign relations" issue.  The importance of this external aspect must be stressed; all of us bear the obligation of rendering the Almighty beloved among His creatures.  But the obligation is not limited to this responsibility.  To it we must add all the different levels, the four categories that we noted based on the Rambam.


(This shiur was delivered at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, 9 Iyar 5761 [May 2, 2001].  The adaptation has not been reviewed by Harav Lichtenstein.)


, full_html, 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. Part 2., full_html, The first aspect of "chillul Hashem" is in a person's action, the second relates to its result.

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