Parashat Emor: Kiddush Hashem and Hilul Hashem
We find in Parashat Emor one of the most important commands in the entire Torah: “Ve’lo Tehalelu Et Shem Kodshi” – “You shall not desecrate My sacred Name” (22:32). The Torah here introduces the prohibition of “Hilul Hashem,” which forbids defaming the Name of G-d through our conduct. The way we act directly affects the way the people around us view our religion and G-d Himself. If we speak discourteously or fail to show consideration to others, then people think that people who follow G-d’s Torah become rude and insensitive, and the Torah strictly forbids acting in a way that gives this impression.
Our Sages emphasized the particular severity of this prohibition, teaching that one cannot earn atonement for “Hilul Hashem” until after he dies. Other sins can be atoned for through repentance, Yom Kippur, or various forms of suffering. When it comes to “Hilul Hashem,” however, one does not achieve atonement even by repenting, observing Yom Kippur and enduring suffering. This violation is so severe that complete atonement is achieved only at the time of one’s death.
In addition to presenting the prohibition of “Hilul Hashem,” the Torah here also introduces the obligation of “Kiddush Hashem,” to bring honor and glory to G-d through our conduct. The Torah writes, “You shall not desecrate My sacred Name, and I shall be glorified.” The question is asked, why does the Torah need to issue both these commands? If one brings glory to G-d’s Name, then he certainly does not defame G-d’s Name. Seemingly, then, it should have sufficed for the Torah to command us to bring glory to G-d’s Name, as in so doing one necessarily avoids dishonoring G-d’s Name. Why, then, did the Torah also mention the prohibition of “Hilul Hashem”?
The answer that has been given is that sometimes people are so intent in creating a “Kiddush Hashem” that they end up creating a grievous “Hilul Hashem” in the process. One very common, and very unfortunate, example is people who block the aisle while praying on an airplane. In and of itself, praying while traveling is a great “Kiddush Hashem,” as it publicly demonstrates one’s devotion to G-d and how he is committed to prayer even under the difficult conditions of travel. But if one inconveniences his fellow passengers in the process, then he creates a “Hilul Hashem,” not a “Kiddush Hashem.” Rather than bringing honor to G-d, he conveys the terribly mistaken message that G-d encourages us to be inconsiderate and insensitive to other people.
It once happened that during the morning Shaharit prayer in our synagogue, as we were praying the Amida, a person who lived next to the synagogue stormed into the sanctuary, visibly distraught. He explained that somebody had parked in front of his driveway, and he was unable to leave. After several minutes, the person who had parked his car in front of the driveway finally finished the Amida, and angrily said, “I was rushing to come and pray. What’s the big deal if he waits for a few minutes?”
This is a grave “Hilul Hashem.” This person thought he was acting piously by rushing to the synagogue for prayer. He did not realize that if his rush to pray in the synagogue necessitated creating this “Hilul Hashem,” then he would be much better off praying at home. One cannot create a “Kiddush Hashem” by creating a “Hilul Hashem” in the process.
I recall another example where on a cold, snowy day a man double parked so he could run into a store to do Shabbat shopping. When he came back to his car with his Hallot, wine and other goods, the fellow whose car was blocked was, understandably, very upset. The man who double parked retorted that he was going in to do Shabbat shopping, so the other man could wait for a few minutes. This man thought that since he was doing something very noble – going out to purchase goods for Shabbat in inclement weather – he was entitled to inconvenience other people in the process. He, too, failed to realize that one cannot make a “Kiddush Hashem” by way of a “Hilul Hashem.”
This is why the Torah both forbids “Hilul Hashem” and commands us to make a “Kiddush Hashem.” It instructs us that involving ourselves in important and worthwhile Misvot does not justify inconsiderate behavior, that we must avoid defaming G-d’s Name even as – or especially as – we are working to bring glory to G-d’s Name.