By Johnny Solomon, May 9, 2008

“You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people”
Leviticus 22:32

According to the Talmud, there is only one sin that cannot be forgiven even if the sinner repents, fasts on Yom Kippur or is afflicted with suffering. This is the sin of chillul Hashem — profaning God’s name (Yoma 86a).

A chillul Hashem is created when someone acts in a way that leads others to proclaim, “This man studied the Torah: look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly are his ways.” The implication is that those who study Torah have a responsibility to avoid a chillul Hashem.

Elsewhere in the Talmud (Bava Kama 113a), we find a debate between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva on the significance of chillul Hashem. If a Jew is taken to court by a dishonest tax collector who plans to steal from the Jew in the future, may the court employ subterfuges to ensure that the Jew is exonerated? Rabbi Yishmael argued that the court may do so. However, Rabbi Akiva forbade such practice given that this would profane God’s name.

Sadly, Rabbi Akiva’s students did not follow his lead. The Talmud states that between Pesach and Shavuot, 24,000 of his students died “because they were not respectful to one another” (Yevamot 62b). For example, when one student was gravely ill, his friends did not visit him, claiming that their studies were more important (Nedarim Page 40a).

So why do we mourn between Pesach and Shavuot? We mourn the fact that despite learning much Torah, these students failed in their application of Torah.

As a teacher, I have always been concerned that we avoid making this same mistake. I do not believe that the answer is simply to teach more Torah, although these texts should be studied with care. Instead, parents and teachers should talk more about God, for it is only by valuing God’s presence in the world that we fully appreciate our duty to sanctify His name.

Last updated: 1:54pm, June 2 2008