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Living a Life of Kiddush Hashem

The purpose of all creation is to sanctify Hashem’s Name, as Chazal say, “All that Hashem created is for His glory.” While this is true of all of creation, it is especially true of Klal Yisrael. Rav Schwab understood Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s entire weltanschauung of Torah im Derech Eretz in terms of kiddush Hashem: life on earth and man’s involvement with worldly and material matters are all meant to lead the world to a greater awareness of G-d’s presence on earth. It should also elevate the Jewish people as [Hashem’s] messengers to humanity and bring them to ever higher moral and ethical behavior.

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Living in America, the malchus shel chessed, only strengthens one’s obligation for kiddush Hashem. Every form of chillul Hashem, he taught, lowers the awareness of the Divine presence in this world. If the perpetrator is an observant Jew or, worse, a so-called Torah scholar, then the offense is far greater. How, he asked, can one who has cheated his neighbor or defrauded the government have the audacity to stand in front of the congregation and recite Kaddish, a prayer for sanctifying [the Creator’s] Name in the world? Rav Schwab taught that we are a kingdom of kohanim, priests. A kohen is one who spreads the word of the Almighty, by his words and by example. One of the greatest opportunities for kiddush Hashem in galus occurs when a Jew is dealing with a non-Jew.

More than anything, Rav Schwab feared the possibility of making a chillul Hashem. He never used the title “rabbi” in his bank records or on his checks, out of concern, as he told me, that if, [chas v’shalom], a check would bounce, “Rabbi” would add to the chillul Hashem.

Many years ago, a shameful scandal erupted in the Jewish community centering around a Jewish businessman who was put on trial for embezzlement. At that time, influential members of the embezzler’s community approached the Rav with a plea that he do what he can to prevent the man from going to prison. Rav Schwab became extremely agitated, and he pointed out to the petitioners that the man’s behavior, which was so widely publicized in the media, caused a tremendous chillul Hashem, and that the man had became a virtual rodef, a threat to the lives of Klal Yisrael.

He told the visitors outright that the embezzler deserved to sit in prison for a long time. He pleaded with them to give the embezzler a message – that he should shave off his beard and take off his yarmulke when appearing in court, because by displaying these signs of his religious affiliation, he would be making a new chillul Hashem every day on the evening TV news and would be a living disgrace for the Jewish people.

Rav Schwab wrote extensively on this topic of chillul Hashem.

If one steals from a non-Jew, swears falsely and dies, his death is no atonement 10)…. Let us repeat. The profaners and the desecrators give us all a rotten name, aiding and abetting our many adversaries and antagonizing our few friends. Therefore, no whitewashing, no condoning, no apologizing on behalf of the desecrators. Let us make it clear that anyone who besmirches the Sacred Name ceases to be our friend. He has unwittingly defected from our ranks and has joined our antagonists, to make us all suffer in his wake. And – noblesse oblige – the more prominent a man has become in Orthodox Jewish circles, the more obligated he must feel to observe the most painstaking scrupulousness in his dealings with the outside world. [Selected Writings (CIS Publishers, 1988]

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Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He then taught as an adjunct at Stevens until 2014. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.