(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Emor, gives each and every one of us a special job: Serving as G-d’s ambassador.
In reality, this is not a new job, but a reminder to correctly carry out what we do anyway, sometimes against our will, and act as loyal envoys. In the language used in the Talmud, doing the job properly is termed “Kiddush Hashem” (“Glorification of the Name”), and not doing the job correctly is termed “Hilul Hashem” (“Profanation of the Name”).
If these previous lines seem like a riddle, here is the answer. This is what G-d says in the Torah: You shall not desecrate My Holy Name. (Leviticus 22, 32) What is Hilul Hashem? This question was asked by the sages of the Talmud who answered it in detail: “What constitutes profanation of the Name?… Abaye explained: ‘As it was taught: And you shall love the Lord your God, i.e., that the Name of Heaven be beloved because of you. If someone studies scripture and mishna, and attends on the disciples of the wise, is honest in business, and speaks pleasantly to persons, what do people then say concerning him? “Happy the father who taught him Torah, happy the teacher who taught him Torah; woe unto people who have not studied the Torah; for this man has studied the Torah, look how fine his ways are, how righteous his deeds!”... But if someone studies scripture and mishna, attends on the disciples of the wise, but is dishonest in business, and discourteous in his relations with people, what do people say about him? “Woe unto him who studied the Torah, woe unto his father who taught him Torah; woe unto his teacher who taught him Torah!” This man studied the Torah: Look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly his ways.’” (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Yoma, Daf 86) The Talmud describes a person who read, memorized, and served the needs of scholars, but his social relationships were lacking, and this lack was expressed by his being “dishonest in business, and discourteous in his relations with people.”
This type of person is committing Hilul Hashem. As opposed to him, the Talmud presents a person who studies Torah but also his social relationships are good, and thus he brings about Kiddush Hashem.
The terms Kiddush Hashem and Hilul Hashem refer to the impression a man leaves on his surroundings. Every person leaves some impression on those around him. And those people in the environment naturally attribute this impression to the culture and the society in which the man was raised and educated.
In this manner, man is the ambassador of wherever he comes from. And when that man is a Jew – he is an ambassador of the entire Jewish nation and of Judaism itself.
That same Jew, who speaks pleasantly to others and leaves a positive impression on his surroundings, indirectly reflects the quality of his education and Judaism’s positive values.
And if, G-d forbid, the impression he leaves is negative, he causes people around him to assume that Judaism is a negative life path that raises immoral people with no values.
Truth be told, this job is not a choice. From the moment our belonging to the Jewish nation becomes known, we serve as ambassadors of Judaism. Our behavior affects the relationships of people around us, and they induce from it – perhaps subconsciously – their opinion of the Jewish nation as a whole.
This responsibility-bearing reality is not true only when we are in an environment with non-Jews. On the contrary, even when we are among Jews, we are ambassadors. Each one of us creates a certain impression that leads others to thoughts about the quality of our education. Our responsibilities, as people and as Jews, are twofold. We must act properly due both to the human moral obligation and to the representative role we have been given.
Once we are made aware of the responsibility inherent in this job, we can only wish ourselves – good luck! The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.