As part of its discussion about repentance and atonement, today’s daf (Yoma 86a) speaks about the severity of ‘one who bears the sin of Chillul Hashem (Desecration of the Name)’ and it then proceeds to offer some varied examples of Chillul Hashem. For example, according to Rav, a Chillul Hashem occurs when someone who is known for their piety does not pay a local butcher for the meat which they purchase – even if the local common practice is to place purchases on account and then pay at a later date. Contrasting this, Rav Yochanan states that a Chillul Hashem occurs when someone known for their piety ‘goes four amot without studying Torah or wearing Tefillin’. Others, such as Yitzchak from the academy of Rav Yannai, explain that a Chillul Hashem occurs anytime when our behaviour or reputation makes our friends feel embarrassed. While a Beraita is quoted which suggests that a Chillul Hashem occurs when someone who is knowledgeable in Torah but who does not conduct their business affairs faithfully, or who does not speak pleasantly with others.
Clearly, all of these are important definitions. However, the question which occurred to me when learning these teachings is whether they all considered to be the same measure of ‘Chillul Hashem’ or whether some are worse than others. For an answer to this question, I would like to quote the Rambam’s Ma’amar Kiddush Hashem – which is sometimes referred to as his ‘Iggeret HaShmad’ (Letter of Apostasy) – whose translation by Rabbi Leon Stitskin can be found in Tradition (Summer 1977), for it is here where he explains the meaning of these teachings and their hierarchy within the laws of Chillul Hashem:
“The profanation of the Holy Name and its punishment ..may be divided into two parts. The first is of a universal, and the second, of a particular nature. The universal is, in turn, subdivided into two types. The first type is of one who commits a sin out of spite, i.e., not for personal pleasure or delight, but rather to demonstrate his contempt and rejection of religion. Such an act is considered a desecration of the Holy Name. It is with reference to this type that the Blessed One said, “and you shall not swear falsely in My Name, and desecrate the name of your God” (Leviticus 19: 12)…The second type refers to a person who displays a cynical disregard of public opinion with reference to his physical behavior and thereby is held up to public ridicule and slander. Such an individual, although he committed no sin, has nevertheless desecrated the Holy Name. Every person should be sensitive to public censure, just as one has to guard against sins committed against the Creator, as we read, “And you shall be pure before God and Israel” (Numbers 32:22). The rabbis further maintain: R. Nahman, son of Yizhak said, “As people say, may the Lord forgive this man’s actions.” And they continue: “As for example, his friends, are embarrassed by the rumors concerning him” (T.B. Yoma 86a). The specific element is also divided into two types. The first, represents a self-respecting pious individual who performs an act which, while legally defensible, is unfit for a man of high repute, of whom generally more is expected than of an ordinary person, then he is guilty of having desecrated the Holy Name. This is the manner Rab defines the profanation of the Holy Name: “For example, if I would purchase meat and do not pay promptly”, that is to say, it is not fitting for a man of his position to buy anything unless paid for at once without procrastination, although such a practice is permissible for others: Likewise, the comment by R. Johanan is a case in point: “For example, if I walk fourpaces without phylacteries.” The point here is that it is not fitting for a man of his calibre to do so. Thus we find in the Talmud the dictum concerning “the distinctiveness of the prominent individual.” The second type of the specific element delineates a learned person who conducts his commercial affairs with his fellowman with disdain and in an unseemly, hideous manner. He receives people in an irascible, contemptuous manner, devoid of any display of afable social behavior or the usual discreet and courteous amenities. Such an individual is guilty of desecrating the Holy Name. Referring to them the sages say (Yoma 86): “But if someone studies Scripture and Mishnah, 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 has studied the Torah: Look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly his ways; of him Scripture says: ‘In that men said of them: These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of His Land!”’’
As the Rambam continues to explain – again based on our daf – “Clearly, the desecration of the Holy Name surpasses all other iniquities for which neither the Day of Atonement, nor personal suffering or penance can atone for completely.”
Thus, for the sake of ourselves, for the sake of Judaism, and for the sake of the Name of God, we should be exceedingly careful to avoid any action which proximate to being a Chillul Hashem.