Monday, April 27, 2009

The Severity of Desecrating God’s Name

I have said in the past that I am a big fan of ArtScroll. And though I have written about the various reservations I have and the problems they have - I still consider myself a fan - because what they do well - they really do well! The following - based on an ArtScroll footnote - is but one instance of that.

One of the things that I react to quickly is the occurrence of a Chilul HaShem – desecrating God’s Name. Very little bothers me as more than this.

This is why – for example - I will condemn the acts of a Chasidic Rebbe who was caught trying to generate donations to his institutions via abuse of the tax codes on charitable contributions. For those who don't recall here is what hapened.

He and his Shamash devised a plan to kick back to a donor most of any contributions to one of his institutions - after writing a receipt for the total. He would keep a small percentage. When these honey donations were large enough – the ‘take’ was substantial. A million dollar donation could result in a $100,000 net profit with $900,000 going back to the donor. But the donor writes off a million dollars! Everyone’s happy.

Except that this is criminal act of huge Chilul HaShem proportions. And it is because he is a Chasidic Rebbe that his Chilul HaShem is so huge. All things being equal the more religious that one portrays himself as - the bigger the Chilul HaShem.

I bring this up now because of a Gemarah in Bava Kama (113a) learned recently in DafYomi that discusses the parameters of Chilul HaShem.

ArtScroll there discusses the sources and parameters of this severe prohibition. It mirrors what I have here articulated here many times - only as mentioned it includes sources.

Chilul HaShem and Kiddush HaShem are two ends of the same spectrum.

The biblical source of the severe sin is direct command from God in the Torah itself. It is in Leviticus (22:32). ‘Do not desecrate My Holy Name – rather I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel. Anyone who sins because they don’t care about God’s will commits a Chilul HaShem. If it is done in public – defined as a minimum of 10 people – he has committed a public Chilul HaShem which s far worse. There are circumstances where one must give up his life in order to avoid that.

This transgression is more severe than any other in the Torah including idolatry. Even repentance, Yom Kipur, and suffering which can atone for the most severe sins do not absolve one who has committed a Chilul HaShem.

Chilul HaShem occurs even when it is done only in front of non Jews. If one steals from a non Jew not only is he guilty stealing he is additionally guilty of Chilul HaShem.

Indeed the stealing from a non Jew is worse than stealing from a Jew because of the attendant Chilul HaShem! That’s because the victim will not only blame the robber Jew -he will blame Judaism!

It isn’t only about money. Anyone who acts towards another - Jew or non Jew – in a manner that is perceived as unjust may have caused a Chilul HaShem. The duty to avoid such behavior is especially incumbent on conspicuous Jews - even if they only look pious. Such individuals are always judged by a higher standard. So when a pious person does things that may not be a technical violation of Halacha but are nevertheless seen that way by others – that too is a Chilul HaShem! A person who is great in Torah that causes the public to murmur against him is causing a Chilul HaShem.

If someone is recognizable as a pious Jew then even common behavior can become a Chilul HaShem if it can be interpreted negatively by the beholder. For example - buying something and not paying for it immediately can be a Chilul HaShem. Or just not speaking pleasantly to others or even not receiving others with a pleasant countenance!

The greater the scholar - the stricter he must be with himself. If such a person goes the other way and always speaks pleasantly with others, mixes with them, greets them cheerfully, when insulted – does not respond in kind, respects people even of they denigrate him and conducts all of his business affairs with integrity then he creates a Kiddush HaShem.

So the next time there is a public Chilul HaShem I’m going to condemn it just as loudly and publicly – especially if it is done by those who are the most religious in their appearance. And when there is a public Kiddush HaShem I will praise it just as loudly and publicly.