Dr. Laura Schlesinger, the famously tough-minded dispenser of advice on Talk Radio, finishes each of her shows with an exhortation to her listeners along the lines of: "Now, go do the right thing!"
As I reviewed this week's Torah portion, it occurred to me that what the (very religious) Dr. Laura is really saying to her radio audience, albeit in somewhat less overtly religious terms, is: "Go make a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d's name!"
This broad directive to perform actions that magnify the greatness of G-d (and His Torah) and increase the sanctity of His name--as well as its converse, the commandment to strenuously avoid doing anything that would cause a chilul Hashem, or desecration of G-d's Name--is nestled inconspicuously among various laws of sacrifices and priestly obligations in Parshas Emor:
"You shall observe My commandments and perform them; I am Hashem.
From the order of clauses (negative, followed by positive), we could assume that the first order of business, and highest priority, is NOT to desecrate G-d's Name. Indeed, our Sages speak of the unusual severity of this prohibition: "...the sin of desecration is greater than all the other transgressions, and does not lend itself to atonement through repentance and afflictions [alone]," writes Rabbeinu Yonah in his ethical classic, The Gates of Repentance (Third Gate; 158). Atonement is not fully achieved, it seems, until the person who brought dishonor to G-d's Name in this world (as it were) passes on to the next world.
Even apart from such fearful ultimate repercussions for the individual, the sin of desecrating G-d's Name does tremendous damage to the honor of the Jewish people and the Torah here on earth. We all know that to be true, as evidenced by the particular shame (or outrage) we Jews feel when (occasionally) one of our tribe is caught in some unsavory public scandal--all the more so if it happens to be an outwardly "religious" person.
Here are the moving and incisive comments of Rabbi Elie Munk (The Call of the Torah) on the prohibition of desecrating G-d's Name:
Okay, so we see we've got to be careful about our actions--not only because of their intrinsic importance in setting our own spiritual trajectory (upward growth versus the opposite), but also because of the "public relations" consequences. (Like it or not, as Rav Munk writes, we are ALL doing P.R. for the Holy One, Blessed be He!) However, merely avoiding the negative is not all that's expected of us in life; we are supposed to make a positive contribution to this world. We have been called on to be a "light unto the nations," a people radiating G-d's holiness through our sincere and joyous dedication to the Torah and its commandments: "...I will be sanctified among the Children of Israel."Ideally, every one of a Jew's actions would contribute to this sanctification, making G-d more beloved in the world. A holy nation, G-d intended, not a bunch of schleppers--as I wrote last week.
This ideal is beautifully described by Rambam (Maimonidies):
"The greater a man is, the more scrupulous should he be in all such things [i.e., behavior with his fellow man, and general deportment], and do more than the strict letter of the law requires. And if a man has been scrupulous in his conduct, gentle in his conversation, pleasant toward his fellow-creatures, affable in manner when receiving them, not retorting, even when affronted, but showing courtesy to all, even to those who treat him with disdain, conducting his commercial affairs with integrity...devoting himself to the study of Torah, wrapped in tallit, and crowned with phylacteries, and doing more than his duty in all things, avoiding, however, extremes and exaggerations-such a man has sanctified G-d, and concerning him, Scripture [the Book of Isaiah] says, 'AndHe said to me, You are My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.'" (Foundations Of the Torah: 5, 11; from A Maimonidies Reader.)
Every Jewish man and woman, through dedication to Torah, service of G-d and kindly deeds, can attain that lofty level of being "G-d's servant," through whom He is glorified. And even if a person has committed acts of desecration, G-d forbid, and incurred the severe reprobation mentioned earlier, he or she can turn it around with countervailing acts of sanctification! So says Rabbeinu Yonah himself:
"But for this sickness [chilul Hashem], too, though it cannot be cured in the same manner as other transgressions, a cure can be found if the Blessed One helps him to sanctify His Torah before others, and to make known to others the strength of G-d and the honor of the glory of His Kingdom; and his transgression will depart in the abundance of his great excellence of deed, which is the opposite of the deed through which he committed folly and sinned." (The Gates of Repentance; Fourth Gate; 5)
I will have more to say on sanctifying G-d's Name in the coming days. I believe it is important to understand clearly how we Jews differ in our understanding of this holy concept from those un-holy "martyrs" who perversely invoke the same as they gleefully blow up innocent people.
My new e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923
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