The Torah portion of Emor contains 62 mitzvot (according to the Sefer HaChinuch), two of which are to sanctify G-d’s name and not to profane it, as the verse says (Levit. 22:32
), “You shall not desecrate My holy Name. I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the L-rd Who sanctifies you.”
The commentaries offer various interpretations as to what is considered a sanctification or a desecration of G-d’s name.
says that “You shall not desecrate My Holy Name” means that one should not willfully transgress on any commandment, and “I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel” means that one should give up one’s life rather than transgress certain sins (see below).
adds that the explanation is found in the next verse which says “Who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your G-d.” It is only proper that one should give up one’s life for G-d since He is the One who made us into a nation.
(on the Torah) points out (based on Sanhedrin 74a
) that in certain cases one must give up one’s life rather than sin, if one is in the presence of a minyan or more.
- The Kohen and the Sacrifice
The Ibn Ezra
says that the verse refers to the Kohanim who are commanded to sacrifice the correct offerings at the correct time. This will sanctify G-d’s name. On the other hand, if they do not follow the rules of the sacrifices, they will be desecrating G-d’s name.
The Vilna Gaon (in Aderet Eliyahu
) points out that the Talmud (Megillah 23b
) derives the concept of saying certain prayers with a minyan from the verse, “I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel.” Thus, sanctifying G-d’s name means to proclaim His holiness in a quorum.
- Sanctify During the Holidays
The Netziv (in Ha’amek Davar
) explains the connection between desecrating G-d’s name and the holidays (discussed in the following section) based on the Talmud in Kiddushin 81a
. There Rabbi Avin says, “The vulnerable point of the year is the Festival.” Rashi explains that when men and women gather during the holidays, it can lead to sin. As such, the Torah is reminding us to not act like the pagan nations who make vacuous and depraved holiday parties. Rather, we must make sure to sanctify G-d’s name and behave in a holy manner during the holidays.
In addition, he points out, the mitzvah of sanctifying G-d’s name by praying with a minyan (see above from Megillah 23b) is especially relevant during the holidays since during the rest of the year (in Israel) the people were scattered in their territories and were tending to their fields. On the pilgrimage holidays, however, they would gather in Jerusalem and would have the opportunity to pray with a Minyan, thus sanctifying G-d’s name. (See Tosfot D.H. Miknaf on Sanhedrin 37b
that the Jews sanctified G-d’s name with their Shabbat prayers more so than with their weekday prayers.)
The Chatam Sofer
explains that the Torah writes, “You shall not desecrate My holy Name” right before the words “I shall be sanctified” to allude to the fact that we must be very careful not to desecrate G-d’s name after a miracle occurs (which sanctified G-d’s name). This means that after one experiences a miracle, one must devote oneself to G-d in an extraordinary manner in order to acknowledge that miracle. Whereas if one goes about one’s life without changing, it is like saying that the miracle never happened.
As an example, the Chatam Sofer cites the miracle of the salvation of Chanaya, Misha’el and Azaryah from the fiery furnace (see Daniel chapter 3). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 93a
) says that after they were saved, the nations of the world spat on them and said, “You Jews have such a powerful G-d yet (most of) you bow to idols”. The Talmud says that those righteous men drowned in the saliva that was spat on them. This should not be taken literally. Rather, it means that the effect of miracle was lost (drowned) because, instead of the Jews’ devoting themselves to G-d afterwards, they (the Jewish people as a whole as opposed to Chanaya, Mishael and Azaryah) went back to their old, sinful ways.
- Sanctify After Desecrating
Rabbeinu Bachaye says that by putting the mitzvah of sanctifying G-d’s name right after the warning not to desecrate it, the Torah is alluding to the fact that one may atone for the sin of desecrating G-d’s name by sanctifying it.
According to the Talmud (Yoma 86a
), the sin of desecrating G-d’s name is the most difficult to achieve atonement for because other sins are atoned through teshuvah, Yom Kippur and, sometimes suffering. However, for the sin of desecrating G-d’s name, even after all of the above, one does not achieve atonement until after one’s death.
Despite this, one can achieve atonement for this grievous sin by reversing the effect of the sin. This is accomplished by sanctifying G-d’s name. For example, if one’s negative behavior caused people to say, “If that’s the way an Orthodox Jew behaves, I wish none of my children will be Orthodox,” one should start behaving in such an exemplary manner that people will say instead, “If that’s the way an Orthodox Jew behaves, I wish all of my children would be Orthodox.”
He brings various sources to prove that the proper way to do teshuvah (repentance) and receive atonement is by correcting the area (or limb) in which one sinned.
- King Solomon said (Proverbs 16:6), “Sin is atoned through kindness and faithfulness,” i.e., sins of wickedness and deceit are atoned through the opposite behavior, kindness and truth.
- It is stated in Erkin 15b, “How does one fix the sin of Lashon Hara (negative speech)? If he is a Torah scholar, he should study Torah (use his speech in a positive way).
- King David said (Tehillim 119:136), “My eyes shed streams of water because they did not obey Your teaching.” This means that if one used his eyes to sin, he must do teshuvah using his eyes – by shedding copious tears.
- The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 21:5) says, if one did bundles of sins, he should atone for them by doing bundles of mitzvot. Specifically,
- One who had “haughty eyes” should place Tefillin between his eyes.
- One who lied should teach his children Torah.
- One whose hands spilled blood should place Tefillin on those hands.
- One whose heart plotted wickedness should place G-d’s word on his heart.
- One who ran to sin should run to a Brit Milah instead.
- One who testified falsely should instead be a witness for G-d’s presence.
- One who stirred up fights should instead seek peace.
The rest of this article will discuss some of the details and importance of sanctifying G-d’s name and not desecrating G-d’s name.
Sanctifying by Dying
The mitzvah of sanctifying G-d’s name means that, under certain circumstances one should give up his life for G-d’s sake rather than transgress that sin. See Sefer HaChinuch – Mitzvah 296, Sanhedrin 74a and Yoreh Deah 157.
The reason that dying for G-d’s sake is a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name) is that by giving up one’s life for G-d, he is expressing how deep is his faith and love of G-d. (Likutei Sichot 27:170 based on the Rambam).
The Sefer HaChinuch (in the name of the Rambam) says that there are three general types of Chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name).
- If a person is pressured to commit a sin which according to Halacha he is supposed to die rather than commit (e.g., it is one of the cardinal sins of idolatry, murder, or sexual sins) and he sins in order to save his life, he is considered to have desecrated G-d’s name.
- If a person commits a sin, not for the sake of personal pleasure, but to anger G-d, this is a desecration of G-d’s name.
- If a person who is well known for his good and kind deeds does something that appears to be a sin or is something unbecoming for a person of his stature, that is a Chillul Hashem. For example, the Talmud (Yoma 86a) says that if Rav (of Israel and Babylinia, 175 -247) would buy something on credit and not pay for it right away it would be a Chillul Hashem.
Especially in These Times
The Peleh Yo’etz writes (entry Chilul Hashem) that nowadays one must be extremely scrupulous not to desecrate G-d’s name because, unfortunately, many people always look for reasons to slander and besmirch Torah scholars and pious Jews. As soon as they hear of the slightest (supposed) wrongdoing, whether purposeful or mistaken, they speak disparagingly of them and say, “Did you hear about so and so? He presents himself as pious, but he is really something else entirely.” Whenever they hear of a supposed offense of a pious Jew, they immediately jump to the conclusion that he is guilty and do not bother to investigate. As such, one must be very careful not to give them fodder for these views by giving them any negative material to speak about.
The Peleh Yo’etz writes (ibid) that one who desecrated G-d’s name should, when saying the Shema and Nefilat Apayim (tachanun), intend that he is giving up his life for G-d. The Almighty will accept his good thoughts and will consider it as if he had done so. This will assist a person in his quest for atonement from his sin.
May We Merit to Always Sanctify G-d’s name!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!