According to the Midrash, it is impossible for Yisrael as a nation to find full favor in the eyes of the other nations of the world. Since the time of Yaakov and Eisav, we have suffered the world’s wrath by way of persecutions and expulsions – there is virtually no nation in the world that does not have Jewish blood in its soil. I once read about a single Jewish-owned property in Poland that due to the ebbs and tides of persecution, in 600 years had been snatched by various anti-Semitic governments no less than three times.
The question we must ask is as follows: How can we have a global effect on the world if they really do not wish us well. How can we really influence them if the hatred is so deep and widespread?
The task is definitely very difficult, but are we really trying?
This summer I was in the Wal-Mart in Monticello, New York. The lane I was checking out in was designated for 12 items or less. The store was packed and the lines were very long. It was the beginning of July when our community migrates en masse to the cooler Catskill climate, and the initial food and accessories shopping can be quite large. Most of the individuals on line in the express lane were local residents who were there to purchase a loaf of bread or some small items for dinner. The regular lines were long, and it would have taken over an hour for me to get to the register; I was relieved that I only had a couple of items and could wait in the quicker express lane.
The woman at the head of my line was Jewish, obvious from the Hebrew writing on her shirt and from the Mickey Mouse leather yarmulka on her child’s head. I was contemplating the inner thoughts of the locals upon seeing the swarm of Jews enter their usually quiet store. During the year, the Wal-Mart is practically empty. One could park near the front door, the shelves are well stocked and there are never lines at the registers. At the beginning of the summer, the parking lot fills up with newer model leased cars, the shelves are bare, and the lines are usually long. Even though our presence most certainly boosts the local economy, there are many locals who are disrupted by the swarm of the boisterous city folk. The Jewish lady at the head of the line put her seven items on the counter before motioning to her daughter who was hovering nearby with an overflowing cart. The lady began moving the items from the shopping cart to the small express belt with a smile to the cashier and a sly, “I am sure you don’t mind, right?” What was he to say? But as the express line backed up to almost 20 people deep, I squirmed with embarrassment as the woman ahead of me turned to me, an obviously Jewish man behind her, and said, “Who do these Jews think they are?”
The answer is that we are the descendants of our holy forefathers, and we have been given the task to sanctify Hashem’s name with our actions. We are endowed with the responsibility of being examples to the world of what the beauty of Torah can bring to one’s life. That is the essence of kiddush Hashem, or sanctification of G-d’s name. Our forefather Avraham’s impact transformed the world from a predominantly idol worshipping culture to one with a greater recognition of Hashem. Avraham’s greatest teaching method was his genuine chesed, his giving to others with tremendous self-sacrifice. When a person sees that another person cares so much about him, he will want to see what caused this person to be so righteous. The result is influencing others to respect the Torah and its laws which create an intricate web of positive interpersonal relationships. Avraham’s example makes it clear that if we act towards others with kindness and respect, a kiddush Hashem is made and the world around us is impacted in a positive way.
Returning to Wal-Mart…
I went to the parking lot and saw the Jewish lady loading her car. I approached and asked her what she had been thinking. She said that the “trick” she used is usually very effective in saving her time in the checkout line. I questioned whether she ever considered the fact that she was stealing time from other people, or, even worse, making a public chilul Hashem — desecration of G-d’s name. Her response: If others aren’t smart enough to think of this trick, then it is their problem. We are in a “survival of the fittest world,” she stated, and the smartest ones are those who will win. I suggested that performing such “tricks” while wearing a shirt with Hebrew writing and with her son wearing a Mickey Mouse clad yarmulka generates a bad name for the nation that she represents and the holy Torah that is our guide. I would have liked to tell my unreceptive audience that being “smarter” does not make a kiddush Hashem; only through honesty and kindness can we gain respect in the eyes of the nations of the world… and only those who practice that are the true “winners.”
The Rambam says that a wise person makes a kiddush Hashem by treating others with respect and by living a life that makes all who see him praise him and want to be like him. We glorify Hashem’s presence in this world by emulating His ways of kindness and by spreading the love to all of his children.
If this is the meaning of kiddush Hashem, or sanctification of Hashem’s name, then we can possibly comprehend the meaning of a chilul Hashem, or desecration of His name. The Zohar explains that the word chilul comes from the word chalal, which means void or empty. When a person acts as if he exists in a void where no one is watching him, or that Hashem is not aware of his actions, he creates a chilul Hashem. In other words, if ones actions are not proper, he creates a state where there is less awareness of Hashem’s existence in the world. Our actions are not neutral. Each act that is performed can either increase the awareness of G-d’s presence in the world or remove it – it is either one or the other.
The word chilul can also come from the word chol, which means mundane. When one’s actions create a sense in others that G-d does not exist in the world, those that observe him performing a holy act will believe that the mitzvah or action is rote or mundane. If others respect our day-to-day behavior and ethics, then they will see that our ritual acts and mitzvot contain some sense of holiness or moral lessons.
The Talmud Yerushalmi relates the story of the holy sage Shimon Ben Shetach. His students wanted to buy him a present to help him earn parnassah. They went to a gentile to buy him a special donkey. When they purchased the donkey, they noticed a precious pearl hanging from its neck. They told their rebbe that the value of this pearl would enable him to provide for himself for years. Shimon ben Shetach asked his students if the seller knew about the pearl left around the neck on the donkey. The answer was no, but that it was considered a lost item and that he should be able to keep it. Shimon ben Shetach told them that they should immediately return the precious pearl to the former owner. He explained that he would rather the man declare, “Blessed be the G-d of the Jews,” than have all the money in the world. When the pearl was returned the man did indeed declare, “Blessed be the G-d of Shimon ben Shetach.” The non-Jew fully understood that returning the pearl was an act that represented the ethics of the Torah and was a reflection of G-d himself.
Over the seven days of the Yom Tov of Sukkos, 70 bulls are sacrificed in the Bais Hamikdash. According to the Talmud (Sukkah 55b), there are 70 nations of the world. The 70 bulls correspond to those 70 nations, and it was in the merit of these bulls that the nations flourished and succeeded. In essence, we were bringing the sacrifices as a favor to the nations of the world to obtain their forgiveness and request their well-being. Ironically, when they destroyed our Holy Temple, they also destroyed all the goodness that was brought to them as a result of these sacrifices. While we wish the nations of the world success and prosperity, we realize that this feeling has not always been reciprocated. The feeling of being persecuted is part of our Jewish soul, and this leads to our distrust of the nations of the world. Very few nations and relatively few individuals intervened as we were being expelled from Germany or annihilated in Poland. While insularity and ethnocentricity has worked well for us during this long exile, its result cannot be a lack of concern towards what others think of us, because that does not allow us to accomplish our goal of sanctifying G-d’s name in our day-to-day lives.
On Yom Kippur we can atone for almost any sin. Sometimes part of the atonement requires us to have some sort of trial or punishment, but ultimately we can repent for our actions in this world. However, there is one sin so severe that even Yom Kippur does not have the power to allow us to correct. That sin is chilul Hashem, because when we desecrate G-d’s name we cause others to rebel against the Torah, and that is the opposite of our purpose in creation.
We just spent 25 hours in shul on Yom Kippur praying for a year of life and goodness. The Chida tells us that one annuls 100 of his own prayers for each chilul Hashem he causes. Perhaps on the way to shul this Sukkos, as we extend holiday greetings to our fellow Jews, we should extend our good wishes to our non-Jewish neighbors as well. As we shop for the holiday and take Chol Hamoed outings, let us try and perform acts that will cause others to “Bless the G-d of the Jews.” Create a kiddush Hashem by extending kindness and modeling a fine, honest character, generating respect for the holy Torah amongst the nations of the world.
About the Author: Rabbi Gil Frieman is the pulpit Rabbi of Jewish Center Nachlat Zion, the home of Ohr Naava. He is certified as a shochet, sofer, and has given lectures in the United States, Canada, and throughout Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Frieman is currently the American Director of seminaries Darchei Binah, Afikei Torah, and Chochmas Lev in Eretz Yisroel, and teaches in Nefesh High School, Camp Tubby during the summers, and lectures weekly at Ohr Naava. In addition, Rabbi Frieman teaches all tracks in Ateres Naava Seminary. He is a highly anticipated speaker on TorahAnytime.com where he speaks live most Wednesday nights at 9:00pm EST.
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