Embedded in this week’s Torah reading are two of the most fundamental commandments. We find them in verse 32 of Leviticus 22:
Do not desecrate My holy name. I must be sanctified among the Israelites. I am the Lord who made you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord.’
The two commands basically tell us that we are 1) not to desecrate God’s Name but instead 2) to sanctify His Name. What does that mean?
Your name is how you are known to other people. It is the same with God. His ‘name’ identifies Him and how people use His Name identifies their perception or lack therof of Who He is. As those who love Him and revere His Name, it is our responsibility to demonstrate that love and respect in our conduct and our words. This is what Isaiah meant when he wrote: “You are my witnesses, says God, that I am God” (Isaiah 43:10)
Did you get that? Our lives and conduct are to witness Who God is!
The God of Israel is the God of all humanity. He created the universe and life itself. He made all of mankind in His image. He cares for all of us: “His tender mercies are on all his works” (Psalm 145:9).
Yet the God of Israel is radically unlike the pagan gods we read about. He is not identical with nature. He created nature. He is not identical with the physical universe. He transcends the universe. He is not capable of being mapped by science: observed, measured, quantified. He is the author of science. How then is He known?
We are God’s ambassadors to the world. Therefore our behavior either sanctifies God’s Name or desecrates it. The prophet who never tired of pointing this out was Ezekiel, the man who went into exile to Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple. This is what he hears from God:
I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, “These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.” (Ezekiel 36:19)
When the Jews were defeated and sent into exile, it was not only a tragedy for them. It was a tragedy for God, like a parent would feel when he sees a child of his disgraced and sent to prison. But when God’s people are faithful to their mission, when they live and lead and inspire others, then God’s name is exalted.
Maimonides described it this way:
If a person has been scrupulous in his conduct, gentle in his conversation, pleasant toward his fellow creatures, affable in manner when receiving, not retorting even when affronted, but showing courtesy to all, even to those who treat him with disdain, conducting his business affairs with integrity … And doing more than his duty in all things, while avoiding extremes and exaggerations – such a person has sanctified God.
God trusted us enough to make us His ambassadors to an often faithless, brutal world. The choice is ours. Will our lives ‘sanctify His Name’, or God forbid, do the opposite? To have done something, even one act in a lifetime, to make someone grateful that there is a God in heaven who inspires people to do good on earth, is perhaps the greatest achievement to which anyone can aspire.
In Tune with Torah this week = how closely does our behavior mirror the faith we profess? Do we take seriously our destiny to be God’s ambassadors to those around us?
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