Photo Credit:
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

That is what Amos means when he says: “They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground, and deny justice to the oppressed … so desecrate My holy name” (Amos 2:7).

When Jews behave badly, unethically, unjustly, they create a Chillul Hashem. People say they cannot respect a religion, or a God, that inspires people to behave in such a way. The same applies on a larger, more international scale. The prophet who never tired of pointing this out was Ezekiel, the man who went into exile to Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple. This is what he hears from God:


“I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned My holy name, for it was said of them: ‘These are the Lord’s people, and yet they had to leave his land’ ” (Ezekiel 36:19).

When Jews are defeated and sent into exile, it is not only a tragedy for them. It is a tragedy for God. He feels like a parent would feel when he sees his child disgraced and sent to prison. He feels a sense of shame and worse than that, of inexplicable failure.

“How is it that, despite all I did for him, I could not save my child from himself?” When Jews are faithful to their mission, when they live and lead and inspire as Jews, then God’s name is exalted. That is what Isaiah means when he says: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:3).

That is the logic of Kiddush Hashem and Chillul Hashem. The fate of God’s “name” in the world is dependent on us and how we behave. No nation has ever been given a greater or more fateful responsibility. And it means that we each have a share in this task.

When a Jew, especially a religious Jew, behaves badly – acts unethically in business, or is guilty of sexual abuse, or utters a racist remark, or acts with contempt for others – it reflects badly on all Jews and on Judaism itself. And when a Jew, especially a religious Jew, acts well – develops a reputation for acting honorably in business, or caring for victims of abuse, or showing conspicuous generosity of spirit – his behavior reflects well on Jews. It increases the respect people have for religion in general, and thus for God.

This is how Maimonides puts it in his law code, speaking of Kiddush Hashem:

“If a person has been scrupulous in his conduct, gentle in his conversation, pleasant toward his fellow creatures, affable in manner when receiving, not retorting even when affronted but showing courtesy to all, even to those who treat him with disdain, conducting his business affairs with integrity … And doing more than his duty in all things, while avoiding extremes and exaggerations – such a person has sanctified God.”

Rabbi Norman Lamm tells the amusing story of Mendel the waiter. When the news came through to a cruise liner about the daring Israeli raid on Entebbe in 1976, the passengers wanted to pay tribute, in some way, to Israel and the Jewish people. A search was made to see if there was a Jewish member of the crew. Only one could be found: Mendel the waiter. So, at a solemn ceremony, the captain on behalf of the passengers offered his congratulations to Mendel, who suddenly found himself elected de facto as the ambassador of the Jewish people. We are all, like it or not, ambassadors of the Jewish people, and how we live, behave and treat others reflects not only on us as individuals but on Jewry as a whole – and thus on Judaism and the God of Israel.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articlePesach’s Dusty Windows (Part Four)
Next articleThe Lessons Of Sefirat Ha’Omer
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was the former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth and the author and editor of 40 books on Jewish thought. He died earlier this month.