Shraga's Weekly Parshat Emor: Israel and Kiddush Hashem
click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




Emor(Leviticus 21-24)

Israel and Kiddush Hashem

In this week's Parsha, God tells the Jewish people:

"You shall not desecrate My Holy Name (Chillul Hashem), rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel (Kiddush Hashem). I am God Who makes you holy." (Leviticus 22:32)

What is the nature of this Mitzvah?

The primary privilege and responsibility of every Jew is to create positive PR for God through our loyal adherence to His Torah. Certain mitzvot clearly achieve this, like eating Matzah on Passover. When I spend a week cleaning out breadcrumbs from every nook and cranny of my home, the only possible motivation is that God said so! By eating Matzah, I increase the respect for God in the world, which is the essence of Kiddush Hashem.

Another obvious example is the Mitzvah of Bris Milah ― circumcision. Who would perform non-medical surgery on a helpless baby ― and on such a sensitive part of the body? (Even the most radical college fraternity doesn't require such an extreme show of commitment!) So when a Jew performs Bris Milah, it is a Kiddush Hashem, awakening us and others to the presence of God in our lives.

The Knife

The Holocaust produced many heroic deeds of Jews standing loyal to God, in the face of the most impossible conditions.

A beautiful story illustrates this idea (from "Stories of the Holocaust," by Yaffa Eliach):

One of the forced laborers in the camps relates that one day he heard frightening cries of anguish the likes of which he had never heard before. Later he learned that on that very day a selection had been made ― of infants to be sent to the ovens. We continued working, tears rolling down our faces, and suddenly I hear the voice of a Jewish woman: "Give me a knife."

I thought she wanted to take her own life. I said to her, "Why are you hurrying so quickly to the world of truth..." All of a sudden the German soldier called out, "Dog, what did you say to the woman?"

"She requested a pocketknife and I explained to her that it was prohibited to commit suicide."

The woman looked at the German with inflamed eyes, and stared spellbound at his coat pocket where she saw the shape of his pocketknife. "Give it to me," she requested. She bent down and picked up a package of old rags. Hidden among them, on a pillow as white as snow, lay a tender infant. The woman took the pocketknife, pronounced the blessing ― and circumcised the child. "Master of the Universe," she cried, "You gave me a healthy child, I return him to You a worthy Jew."

Watching Closely

Every aspect of our behavior can foster a Kiddush Hashem. I asked a woman who recently became observant what led her to make such a commitment. She said that when her 10-year-old niece became observant, the girl transformed from being a spoiled brat, into a model of kindness and compassion. The woman said, "If this is the effect that Torah has on a person, then I want it, too!"

On the converse, a Jew acting in a despicable manner is a desecration of God's Name. Which is why we are so bothered when a Jew cheats in business. Besides violating the Torah prohibition of stealing, the additional tragedy is that people will say, "If this is the effect that Torah has, then I don't want any part of it." It distances people from connecting to God.

Even further, such behavior demoralizes society, because there is a feeling that if Jews ― the "guardians of morality" ― are corrupt, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

This is perhaps the reason why the State of Israel today is a constant source of worldwide media attention, and why the United Nations routinely condemns Israel for every slight misstep (real or imagined). If it happened in another country, it may be forgiven as a consequence of law and order. But deep down the world expects Jews to uphold their mission as the role models for humanity, the "Light Unto the Nations."

This is why the Talmud (Yoma 86a) says that Chillul Hashem is the most serious of all transgressions, and the one for which it is most difficult to atone.

Shouting Down

In actuality, the State of Israel has been a great source of Kiddush Hashem. The blossoming of the desert, the ingathering of the exiles, the great centers of Torah study, and the solid economic base ― what other country achieved so much in its first 50 years? And this on the heels of a devastating Holocaust and crippling blows from Arab enemies.

Unfortunately, Israeli society also has aspects of Chillul Hashem on both sides of the fence. Orthodox Jews sometimes throw things and shout ― and the effect can be devastating.

The Torah says: “You shall surely correct your neighbor, but don't bear a sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). This means it is forbidden to correct someone if the result will make matters worse. In other words, it is no mitzvah to protest Shabbat desecration in a way that will create tension and resentment. Actually the bigger mitzvah in that case would be to keep quiet, or find a more pleasant way of expression. Don't allow your Kiddush Hashem to become a Chillul Hashem.

Lofty Jewish Ideals?

On the other side, visitors to Israel are often shocked to find Jews sitting in cafes eating bread on Passover, and even having pork roasts on Yom Kippur. And some of the worst Western vulgarities have become an accepted part of Israeli life. It's all over the media for the world to watch and say, “Such is the People of the Book?!”

Israel is a living workshop where lofty Jewish ideals can become reality. To chase after the lowest elements of Western society is to sink into the grime of history. Is this how we define "something Jewish existing in the world?" Is this the expression of "light unto the nations?" Is this the culmination of 2,000 years of struggle and suffering? Is this what Tzahal soldiers died for? Is this being "free in our land?"

It was not too many years ago that Israeli society still held itself to a higher standard. In the 1960s when British rock legend Cliff Richard performed here, parents were outraged at the negative effect on Jewish children. Shortly thereafter, the Beatles were refused entry into Israel ― on the grounds of being a subversive influence. Today, this seems tame by comparison. And whether one agrees or disagrees with that decision is not the point. The issue is that Israel ― the model of morality for world Jewry, and the model for all humanity ― had taken a stand.

We have built our land so beautifully and have achieved so much. But do we want to succeed like the other nations, if "success" is defined by 80 cable channels and McDonalds? The image of kibbutzniks dancing around the campfire has faded into stadiums thumping with heavy metal music.

Achad HaAm called Israel "the historic center of a roving spiritual idea." The world is watching. And it's God's good Name on the line. It's up to us.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Published: January 15, 2000

Give Tzedakah! Help Aish.com create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.

Visitor Comments: 16

(15) Chanan, May 8, 2009 10:52 AM

A chicken and Kiddush HaShem

Thank you so much for your article about Kiddush HaShem. May I put something to it? When I eat chicken, I have to thank HaShem for it, not just by saying beracha, but also and even more in using the new energy I got from eating the chicken in a holy way. The chicken is just an animal, never able to sinn or to do chillul Hashem. But when I ate it, I extract energy from it, which I can use in a sinnfull way. The chicken, if possible, could come back to me and ask her feathers and flesh back, because I 've been putting her down, in stead of lifting her up to a higher level. When I 'm eating, it seems to be not so meaningfull, but it certainly is! Even when I eat some bread on shabbath and drink some wine, I realize that I can lift it up to kiddush Hashem by doing what Torah says and using the new energy to noting else than holy matters.

(14) Anonymous, May 7, 2009 2:35 PM

Western Influence?

You mention Jews "chasing the lowest elements of Western Culture"... like eating pork. Last I checked, Asians eat pork too. Also, here in California, there are many Jews persuing Buddism, vegitarianism, etc. The whole point of Torah is to be separate from the world...

(13) Art Janklow, May 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Re: Rabbi Sharaga Simmons" Israel and Kiddush Hashem

Thank you so much for hitting the nail on the head. I absolutely love everything that you send to me. I live in Rapid City, SD and you are truly one of my main "lifelines" to Judaism. Thank you.

Art Janklow

(12) Anonymous, May 11, 2005 12:00 AM

help needed

"On the converse, a Jew acting in a despicable manner is a desecration of God's Name. Which is why we are so bothered when a Jew cheats in business."

It is so sad that the term Jewish business ethics is often regarded as a warning sign to beware of dishonesty. In my business dealings Orthodox Jews are a small minority of customers but they make up a large percentage of problem customers who act somewhere between dishonset and unethical. Thank G-d there are some who are straight and upright in their dealings. If only dishonesty in business carried as much of a stigma as eating treif. Let's make every effort to teach and practice Mussar or whatever it takes to change this behavior and in so doing merit redemption in our days.

Anonymous, May 13, 2011 3:50 PM

Benefit of the Doubt

Ethics in business, or lack thereof, is tragically often a source of great chillul Hash=m. I would like to present an explanation for this problem, which I hope will shed some light and perhaps lesson the chillul. As recently as within the last century, survival was the priority for many of our grandparents and great grandparents. Under despotic regimes such as Czarist and Socialist Russia and Nazi Germany, the black market, forgery of papers, and even the simple stealing of vegetables from private farms while hiding from pursuers, where all decisions of life and death. The Holocaust especially affected the perspective of those who survived and created a survival mentality and displaced the stigma of dishonesty. The challenge is for us to readjust the perspective here in this wonderful country of charity and justice where survival is not dependent on dishonesty. Thus, the ethical problems that you write about can be considered another tragic result of the persecution our nation has endured.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.


  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment
stub