Emor

"You shall not desecrate my holy name, I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel. I am the Lord who makes you holy" Leviticus 22: 31


By Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, April 28, 2010
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Does it matter what the rest of the world thinks of Israel and the Jewish people or should we just do what we think is right regardless of world opinion?

At first glance, it might seem that Judaism only requires us to follow its laws, oblivious to other people's views. But our religious obligations include the duty to avoid any act which will reduce respect for God and the Jewish people and to strive to "sanctify God's name"; bringing credit to our religion and its adherents (Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 5: 10).

Fascinatingly, one of the prime sources for this idea is the interaction between a poor rabbi and an Arab which took place several thousand years ago when Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach purchased a donkey from the Arab. His students looked at the animal, and they noticed a precious stone hanging from its neck. Thrilled by this new-found wealth, they reckoned that it signified divine affirmation of their religious beliefs. They turned to their teacher and declared; "The blessing of God has made you rich."

But the rabbi dismissed their miraculous interpretations of events. He also rejected any legal claims he might have to the jewel, retorting; "I bought a donkey, I did not buy a precious stone", and with that he returned the jewel to its original owner. The Arab was clearly impressed by the rabbi's moral stature and declared: "Blessed is the God of Shimon Ben Shetach" (Deuteronomy Rabbah 3:4).

This midrash is a timely reminder that while faith in God and his miracles is important, it must never be a substitute for the highest standards of ethical behaviour towards Jew and non-Jew alike.

    Last updated: 5:44pm, April 28 2010