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Sanctifying the Name (Emor, Covenant & Conversation)

17 1 0
05.05.2022

In recent years, we have often felt plagued by reports of Israeli and Jewish leaders whose immoral actions had been exposed. A President guilty of sexual abuse. A Prime Minister indicted on charges of corruption and bribery. Rabbis in several countries accused of financial impropriety, sexual harassment and child abuse. That such things happen testifies to a profound malaise in contemporary Jewish life.

More is at stake than simply morality. Morality is universal. Bribery, corruption, and the misuse of power are wrong, and wrong equally, whoever is guilty of them. When, though, the guilty are leaders, something more is involved – the principles introduced in our parsha of Kiddush Hashem and Chillul Hashem:

Do not profane My holy Name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelites. I am the Lord, who makes you holy…(Lev. 22:32)

Do not profane My holy Name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelites. I am the Lord, who makes you holy…(Lev. 22:32)

The concepts of Kiddush and Chillul Hashem have a history. Though they are timeless and eternal, their unfolding occurred through the course of time. In our parsha, according to Ibn Ezra, the verse has a narrow and localised sense. The chapter in which it occurs has been speaking about the special duties of the priesthood and the extreme care they must take in serving God within the Sanctuary. All of Israel is holy, but the Priests are a holy elite within the nation. It was their task to preserve the purity and glory of the Sanctuary as God’s symbolic home in the midst of the nation. So the commands are a special charge to the Priests to take exemplary care as guardians of the holy.

Another dimension was disclosed by the Prophets, who used the phrase Chillul Hashem to describe immoral conduct that brings dishonour to God’s law as a code of justice and compassion. Amos speaks of people who “trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground, and deny justice to the oppressed… and so profane My Holy Name.” (See Amos 2:7)

Jeremiah invokes Chillul Hashem to describe those who circumvent the law by emancipating their slaves only to recapture and re-enslave them (Jer. 34:16). Malachi, last of the Prophets, says of the corrupt Priests of his day:

From where the sun rises to where it sets, My Name is honoured among the nations… but you profane it. (Mal. 1:11-12)

From where the sun rises to where it sets, My Name is honoured among the nations… but you profane it. (Mal. 1:11-12)

The Sages[1] suggested that Abraham was referring to the same idea when he challenged God on His plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if this meant punishing the righteous as well as the wicked:

Far be it from You [chalilah lecha] to do such a thing. Advertisement

Far be it from You [chalilah lecha] to do such a thing. Advertisement

God, and the people of God, must be associated with justice. Failure to do so constitutes a Chillul Hashem.

A third dimension appears in the book of Ezekiel. The Jewish people, or at least a significant part of it, had been forced into exile in Babylon. The nation had suffered defeat. The Temple lay in ruins. For the exiles this was a human tragedy. They had lost their home, freedom, and independence. It was also a spiritual tragedy: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”[2] But Ezekiel saw it as a tragedy for God as well:

Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions…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.’ (Ez. 36:17-20)

Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions…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.’ (Ez. 36:17-20)

Exile was a desecration of God’s Name because the fact that He had punished His people by letting them be conquered was interpreted by the other nations as showing that God was unable to protect them. This recalls Moses’ prayer after the Golden Calf: Advertisement

“Why, O Lord, unleash Your anger against Your people, whom You brought out of Egypt with such vast power and mighty force? Why should the Egyptians be able to say that You brought them out with evil intent, to kill them in the mountains and purge them from the face of the earth? Turn from Your fierce anger and relent from bringing disaster to Your........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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