In 1993, Rav Elya Svei zt”l addressed the annual convention of Agudas Yisroel of America in response to allegations that certain Jewish institutions had improperly obtained government funds. “[W]e cannot shrug off the smear against us by saying, ‘It was that institution…their actions,’” he proclaimed. “The chillul Hashem must be borne by all of us, for the status of Torah students has fallen. This affects us all… It is…the responsibility of the entire Klal Yisroel that there be no thieves among us” (The Jewish Observer, January 1994).
But just as the klal bears responsibility for every Jew, every individual Jew also carries a weighty responsibility on his own shoulders. A chillul Hashem created by asingle Jew can have negative consequences for thousands of others. Every Jew should gauge the effects of his actions with the knowledge that they may have an impact on the entire nation.
We are all familiar with the halachic concept of arvus. A person who has already fulfilled his own obligation to perform a certain mitzvah – such as reciting Kiddush or Birkas Hamazon – may perform the mitzvah again in order to help another Jew fulfill his obligation. In essence, the first Jew’s performance of the mitzvah is considered to be lacking as long as his fellow has not also fulfilled it. In light of what we have learned, we can explain why this is so. The ultimate purpose of Klal Yisroel’s existence and observance of the mitzvos is to bring honor to Hashem. The failure of any one Jew to do his share in this respect can detract from Hashem’s honor, thus causing the entire klal to fail to achieve their purpose. Thus, every Jew’s lapse can essentially have an effect on the entire nation. As Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l once wrote about Jews who create horrendous desecrations of Hashem’s Name through wrongdoing, “Those who make the headlines through deceit and swindle and smuggling and forging and defrauding the government and the public, no matter how devout they are in their outward appearance, have the blood of Klal Yisroel on their hands” (Selected Writings). Beyond the gravity of the misdeed itself, a person who engages in such forms of deceit and thievery is guilty of causing damage to the entire Jewish nation.
One crucial key to the prevention of chillul Hashem is the preservation of shalom, peaceful relations, with our fellow Jews. We are all aware that the Torah views machlokes, discord, as a grave transgression. But in addition to the inherent evil of strife, it is devastating for another reason as well: It results in the profanation of Hashem’s Name.
In Parshas Lech Lecha, the Torah relates that a dispute arose between the shepherds of Avrohom Avinu and those of his nephew Lot. Avrohom’s reaction to the dispute was to suggest that he and Lot separate from each other. What motivated him to suggest such a drastic course of action? The Netziv in Haamek Dovor points out that immediately after the Torah describes the conflict between the shepherds, it adds a seemingly irrelevant fact that the Canaani and the Perizi were living in the land at the time. What is the connection? The Netziv explains that the neighboring nations, the Canaani and the Perizi, lived in peaceful coexistence, while Avrohom and Lot had begun to suffer from discord. Avrohom was concerned that if he remained in Lot’s company, the continued friction between them would appear to be the result of their faith, and that would lead to a chillul Hashem!
It was not only in the times of Avrohom Avinu that the concept of machlokes was linked with chillul Hashem. In a teshuvah, the Nodah B’Yehudah (second edition, Yoreh Deah, ch. 29) responds to a questioner who wished to protest against those who permitted the consumption of fish whose scales come off in boiling water: “If you listen to my advice, you will not make an issue…for they have what to rely on. As for your contention that there is a chillul Hashem, it would be a much greater chillul Hashem if the people see that dissension is increasing…especially in this era, when the honor of Torah is diminishing and the lawless ones of the generation rejoice whenever they see two Jews embroiled in a dispute.” Clearly, when a halachic basis existed for a leniency, the Nodah B’Yehudah recoiled from the possibility of dispute even more than he feared allowing the lenient practice to continue.
On the other side of the coin, some of the greatest instances of kiddush Hashem emerge from displays of Jewish unity, even on a small level. A friend of mine, Rabbi Naftoli Steinfeld (name changed), was once driving near the Verrazano Bridge on a Friday afternoon when he spotted a disabled minivan at the side of the road, with a Jewish family standing beside it. The police had already come to the family’s aid, but Rabbi Steinfeld decided to pull over and see if he could be of any assistance. Since there was only a short time remaining until Shabbos, he offered to drive the other man’s children home while he finished dealing with the police. The other motorist gratefully accepted the offer.
“Wait a minute,” the policeman interjected. “You don’t even know this man and you’re going to entrust your kids with him?”
“Why not?” the other Jew grinned, to the policeman’s amazement. “After all, we are all one family!”
Let us all be aware of the far-reaching impact of every one of our actions, and be certain that they always reflect properly on Hashem and on His people.
Next week’s topic: Why is believing in and waiting for the geulah such a fundamental part of Yiddishkeit that it is part of the Thirteen Principles of Faith?
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This column is based on the Sefer Mekadshei Shemecha by Rabbi Shraga Freedman. For a free download of the sefer, hard copies, or more resources; to send comments or stories for future columns; or to start a chaburah in your shul or city, email email@example.com.