EMOR (Leviticus, 21:1-24:23) — “Is There a Middle of the Road?”

Don’t make a ‘Chillul Hashem,'” they would warn us.  “Don’t give people a bad impression about Jews.  Make a ‘Kiddush Hashem!'”

What is a Kiddush Hashem and what is a Chillul Hashem?  Both concepts are mentioned in this week’s Torah Reading:  Do not desecrate My holy name.  I must be sanctified among the Israelites.  (Leviticus,22:32)

Maimonides lists this verse as the source of two different Mitzvahs: a prohibition against doing anything that will give G-d or His Torah a bad name, and a requirement to enhance the reputation of G-d and His Torah.

They used to tell us that Yeshiva students should always be well-behaved, lest we create a Chillul Hashem — a desecration of G-d’s name by allowing people the misimpression that people with Torah values don’t know how to behave properly.  Rather, we should be sure to make a make a Kiddush Hashem — a sanctification of G-d’s name by showing the world how honorably the Torah requires us to act.

Examples: You know how it makes your skin crawl when the front page of the newspaper shows an allegedly “religious” Jew being led away after being accused of some unspeakable crime?  Chillul Hashem.  Nothing makes the Torah look worse than allowing the world to think that it doesn’t teach us values.  Do you remember a few years ago when Malden Mills in Massachusetts burnt down?  Aaron Feuerstein, the orthodox owner of the plant, kept his workers on the payroll for all the months that they sat idle during the rebuilding of his plant.  Kiddush Hashem.  The world had the opportunity to see that for a Torah Jew, the amount of money you make at the end of the day is not the bottom line.


It’s interesting to note that the Torah doesn’t seem to allow for any middle ground.  “Do not desecrate My holy name.  I must be sanctified among the Israelites.”

How about acting in a way that creates neither good P.R. nor bad?  What if we live our lives quietly and anonymously, without calling attention to ourselves in any way?  Can’t we just do what we have to do without desecrating G-d’s name but not grabbing positive headlines for Him either?

There’s no such thing.

Rav Eliezer Shach, may he live and be well, is the esteemed dean of the illustrious Ponevizh Yeshiva in B’nei Brak, Israel. [NOTE: In the time since this article was written, Rav Shach of Blessed Memory, has left us. He was well over a hundred years old.] Rav Shach points out that G-d places great emphasis on His own honor.  The Talmud says in Pirkei Avos, “Whatever G-d created in His world, He created it exclusively for His honor.”

Why, asks Rav Shach, is G-d so concerned about His image?  He is, after all, the “Adon Olam asher malach…” – the Master of the World who ruled long before we got here.  Does He really need honor from us?  Why is He so caught up in His own glory?

The answer, says Rav Shach, is that G-d is telling us who WE are.  G-d, who “formed man out of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils a living soul (Genesis, 2:8), has endowed us with His image and His nobility.  We, who every moment of our lives bear the privilege of being G-d’s creations, carry the enormous responsibility of living our lives in a manner that befits our royal lineage.

If we live a life that brings honor to G-d, we fulfill our Divine destiny and generate Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of G-d’s name that is UPON US.  If, however, we decide to wing it, to take it easy and live a non-descript life, not-so-good and not-so-bad, we’ve missed the point.  We are royalty.  We are the children of G-d.  Any behavior that is less than regal creates Chillul Hashem, a desecration, a waste of our G-dly potential.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.



“Kaddish and Other Overrated Mitzvahs” (2010)

… What is the magic of Kaddish that it draws even the most non-observant Jew into the synagogue? What does it mean? What is its significance? …

Read more.


“Beauty and the Priest” (2007)

… The Torah goes on to give a list of “blemishes” that disqualify the Kohain from officiating in theTempleService.  (Mr. Cohen, I hope your lawyer is taking notes!):

“’… a man who is blind or lame or whose nose has no bridge, or who has one limb longer than the other… who has a broken leg or broken arm… abnormally long eyebrows, a membrane on his eye or a blemish in his eye… any man from the offspring of Aaron who has a blemish shall not approach to offer the fire-offerings of G-d…’” (Ibid, verses 18-22)

There you have it — discrimination against people with disabilities!

What’s going on here?  Shouldn’t there be a “Kohain with Disabilities Act”?!!  Why is the Torah discriminating against a Kohain just because he looks a little different?  Is this a beauty contest?!!

This is not a concept that is easy to explain.  I called a colleague of mine and told him, “Give me a clear, Politically Correct, Jewish-outreach-to-the-uninitiated explanation to these rules.  How do I explain the Torah’s apparent prejudice against Kohanim with disabilities?”

My colleague’s response:  “Good luck!”…

Read more.


“The Passion of the Pharisees” (2004) 

… The world is abuzz about “The Passion.”  …

I recently heard a fellow on the radio defending the movie from charges of being anti-Semitic.  “The Jews are NOT being blamed.  The people at fault were a small number of Jews who controlled theTemple.  The common folk had nothing to do with this murder.  It was the fault of the corrupt priests and the Pharisees!”

…I do want to clear up one thing.  My father-in-law was a Priest, and I am a Pharisee.  And neither of us was portrayed fairly in the movie…

Read more.


“When In Rome…?” (2002)

… In Judaism, one does not enter the priesthood by choice …  Among other things, he has limitations on whom he may marry and where he may go.

The Kohain Gadol, or High Priest, has additional rules that go beyond those of a regular priest…there is an authority in the Talmud who maintains that he should have TWO WIVES…

 … After spending two years studying the laws and serving as an apprentice, I appeared before a Rabbinic Tribunal in B’nei Brak to be tested and certified as a “Sofer STA”M,” a Scribe for Torahs, Tefillin, and Mezuzahs…  The rabbis huddled together in a whispered conference. Would I receive my certification? Finally, the Chief Rabbi of the court rendered his decision…

Read more.


“Is There a Middle of the Road?” (2001)

 … How about acting in a way that creates neither good P.R. nor bad?  What if we live our lives quietly and anonymously, without calling attention to ourselves in any way?  Can’t we just do what we have to do without desecrating G-d’s name but not grabbing positive headlines for Him either? …

Read more.


This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2010 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on May 9, 2001 at 1:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

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