Sanctifying God’s Name
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week’s Torah portion begins with a detailed description of the laws that the kohanim, the priests, had to follow, and ends with specific instructions regarding the cycle of the Biblical festivals. Between these two sections, we find the following verse,
“וְלֹ֤א תְחַלְּלוּ֙ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֔י וְנִ֨קְדַּשְׁתִּ֔י בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל
אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶֽם”
“You shall not desecrate My Holy Name. I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the Lord Who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 22:32).
From this verse, we learn the commandment of sanctifying God’s name, known in Hebrew as Kidush Hashem, as well as the commandment of not desecrating God’s name, known in Hebrew as Chilul Hashem. Although these two precepts seem to be complicated and hard to follow, in fact, their practical implementation is much simpler than might appear.
The rabbis of the Talmud taught that any behavior that brings public dishonor on Jews and Judaism also dishonors God, and thus is considered Hillul HaShem, a desecration of God’s name. At the same time, any behavior that enhances the dignity of Jews and Judaism is considered an act of Kiddush HaShem, the sanctification of God’s name.
Sanctifying God’s name, and not desecrating it, can be done in many simple ways. For example, you can give up your seat on a bus, train, or subway to an older person, especially if you are wearing a Kippah or something that identifies you as a Jew. A simple way of desecrating God’s name would be to drive your car carelessly and to insult other drivers, especially if people can notice that you are Jewish.
In our challenging reality, a Jewish person refusing to wear a mask in a store would be an example of desecrating God’s name. In doing so, he would put other people in danger, and at the same time, he would be communicating, through his behavior, that Judaism (and God) encourages, or at least tolerates, putting other people at risk. A Jewish person who makes a donation to researchers who try to develop a vaccine against Covid-19 would be an example of someone who sanctifies God’s name.
As Jews, we are encouraged to act daily in an ethical way, so we can win respect from all people and thus bring honor to God’s name. May we be inspired to sanctify God’s name, especially during these uncertain times. May we help others and do our part for improving our society and our world, while we honor God and the Jewish tradition.