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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Fighting a Dangerous Foe – Chillul Hashem

The laws of chillul Hashem (avoiding desecrating Hashem’s Name, which comes in several different forms) hold an important place in our spiritual world. Being careful about them overcomes a lot of other concerns. One source that highlights the seriousness of chillul Hashem is: “Any place where there is a chillul Hashem, we do not give honor to the teacher.” (Note that in the context of that quote in Sanhedrin, the teacher whose honor was pushed aside was none other than Moshe Rabbeinu.)
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The laws of chillul Hashem (avoiding desecrating Hashem’s Name, which comes in several different forms) hold an important place in our spiritual world. Being careful about them overcomes a lot of other concerns. One source that highlights the seriousness of chillul Hashem is: "Any place where there is a chillul Hashem, we do not give honor to the teacher." (Note that in the context of that quote in Sanhedrin, the teacher whose honor was pushed aside was none other than Moshe Rabbeinu.)

The matter of chillul Hashem plays a role in several of the parshiyot read this time of year (Ki Tisa, Pekudei, Parah), as we will explain. First in Ki Tisa, after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe went up to the mountain and tried to undo the harsh divine judgment against Bnei Yisrael. Moshe argued: "Why should Egypt say: ‘He took them out in a situation of evil to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from off the face of the land’? Return from Your anger and back away from the evil to Your nation" (Shemot 32:12). In other words, if Hashem would destroy Bnei Yisrael, it would be a chillul Hashem.

The haftara of Parashat Para bemoans a different example of chillul Hashem. Due to Bnei Yisrael’s sins, the nation will be scattered throughout the Diaspora. When their situation is recognized and internalized by the nations, "They will desecrate My Name, as [other nations] will say about them, ‘They are the nation of Hashem, and they left His Land.’" Only when they return to the Land will Hashem’s Name be sanctified once more. (Yechezkel 39:16-20). Rashi points out, from one of the uses of singular in these p’sukim, that Hashem listens to the captors saying that Hashem had no ability to save them. This, of course, is a tremendous chillul Hashem.

In this week’s parasha, we see a serious attempt to eliminate chillul Hashem. The Torah gives an exact listing of the gold, silver, etc. that the leaders accumulated in preparing to make the Mishkan. Rabbeinu Bachyei explains that Moshe gave an exact accounting so that people would not claim that more was received and syphoned off before being given to the Mishkan workers to use. The midrash (Shemot Rabba 51:1) attaches this account to a pasuk in Mishlei and points out that just as it is important to do what one needs to do in relation to Hashem, so must he fulfill his obligations in relation to, and in the eyes of, people. This is along the lines of the halacha that one who went into the office that held the Mikdash funds had to go in with no pockets or wallets so that no one would claim that he took coins. This is as the p’sukim instruct: "You shall be clean in regard to Hashem and in regard to Israel" (Bamidbar 32:22), and "He shall find grace and good judgment in the eyes of Hashem and man" (Mishlei 3:4).

We have learned that a leader, whether a spiritual or a political one, has to be very careful about chillul Hashem, which can occur when there are suspicions of impropriety against him. Let us be careful to sanctify Hashem’s Name and merit the fulfillment mentioned in the haftara we cited: "They will say, ‘This land that was desolate will be like the Garden of Eden,’ and the desolate and destroyed cities will be inhabited when they are reinforced" (Yechezkel 36:35).

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