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D'var Torah - Perashat Emor

05/03/2018 05:05:00 PM


Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla

There are two terms that appear in this week's Torah reading (Perashat Emor) that every single Jew should know.

The two terms appear together in one sentence at the end of chapter twenty-two of Vayika. The first one is: “vilo tichalelu et shem kodshi” - you shall not desecrate My holy Name, and the other which appears in the same sentence is: “vinikdashti bitoch biney Yisrael” - so that I may be sanctified in the midst
of the people of Israel.
From this sentence, the Jewish tradition has derived the two terms that I would have you learn, if you do not already know them. The first is Hillul Hashem. It is the claim of the Jewish tradition that if a Jew does something illegal or immoral, he brings disgrace, not only upon himself but upon the whole Jewish people and upon the name of God.

And the second is Kiddush Hashem. It is the claim of the Jewish tradition that if a Jew does something moral and proper, that if a Jew does even more than the law requires him to do, he brings honor, not only to himself but to the whole Jewish people and to the name of God.
Let me tell you about an act that I believe was a real Kiddush Hashem. This news story comes from Montreal.
There is a man in Montreal who has been legally divorced from his wife for seven years who, nevertheless, refused to give her a Jewish divorce. This woman was therefore in limbo. She was an aguna - not married and not divorced, not living with him and not able to marry any one else.
What did the Orthodox rabbis of Montreal do? They organized a forceful but peaceful rally in front of this man’s home. They took this action only after this man refused every kind of persuasion. Everyone who knows him had tried to persuade him, all to no avail. And so the Vaad Ha-ir of Montreal, together with the Rabbinical Council of Montreal and the Coalition of Jewish Women for the Get got together and organized this demonstration. They pounded on his door, but if the man was home, he did not answer. If he had answered, they had with them a form that they would have asked him to sign, in the presence of two witnesses, which would have authorized the Beth Din to complete the get for him.
The rabbis explained to the press that this attempt to shame this man into releasing his wife is entirely acceptable in Jewish Law. “If a man is hurting a woman, every moral person must try to intercede to help her. The Torah says that we cannot stand by when anyone is being harmed.”
Rabbi Steinmetz was even blunter. “The community has to learn that you cannot mistreat people under the guise of religion. This is abuse of Jewish Law, a crime in Judaism. You cannot use Judaism to extort and hurt people. He was beating his wife with a Bible. Anyone with any connection to Judaism should be appalled.”

  This story is an act of Kiddush Hashem. For when people, whether they be non-observant Jews or whether they be non-Jews, hear that Jewish Law can be used to keep a woman in limbo or to make her vulnerable to blackmail, they do not just have contempt for the person who does this. They turn against Jewish Law as well, and they say: what kind of a religion is this that tolerates
such immoral behavior in the name of the Law?
If rabbis do nothing but sit passively by and shrug their shoulders, if all they say to women who are caught in this situation, is: we wish we could help you, but what can we do? - They desecrate the name of God, and they bring disrepute to the Torah. These rabbis in Montreal therefore deserve great admiration for the courage that they showed in taking action this way. I don’t know if their efforts to confront and shame this man was successful or not, but, either way, they have brought honor to the name of God and honor to the Torah by what they did. They have made it clear that our Torah is a Torah of chesed, and that it dare not be misused to cause harm to innocent people.
Let us learn both these terms: Hillul Hashem and Kiddush Hashem, and let us make them a part of our vocabulary. And let us strive to be careful not to commit one and let us aspire to achieve the other,
for this is what it means to be a Jew.

- Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla

Sat, March 23 2019 16 Adar II 5779