“Remember girls, we’re going to a public place. We need to make keep calm and our voices low. No chillul Hashem!”
“Did you hear about that frum businessman in the news? What a kiddush Hashem! Seeing a religious Jew so successful in the workplace!”
“The nerve of that writer/blogger/activist/speaker talking about our dirty laundry like that. What a chillul Hashem! I mean, not everything has to be announced to the world.”
“I can’t believe that Rabbi was caught in that scandal. So embarrassing… what a chillul Hashem.”
There’s something communicated to us, whether through formal education, the language we use, or the subtle undertones of our community values: be careful, there are people watching you.
And when they are watching, they will judge you.
And when they judge you, they will judge G-d.
The concepts of kiddush Hashem, sanctifying G-d’s name, and its ugly opposite, chillul Hashem, desecrating G-d’s name, are very real. We are trained to be sensitive to how our actions can bring light to the world and delight to G-d – or bring shame to ourselves and defilement of G-d’s name.
And there’s something so beautiful, yet profoundly intense, about that. We are not alone in this world. We do not live in a vacuum. We are always connected to G-d.
And our actions matter.
Yet I wonder if our commitment to sanctifying G-d or avoiding His desecration is truly about our Creator – or something else.
This week, an article was published expounding on abuse and its cover-up in prominent Hasidic schools in my community. The writer shared painful stories of child sexual and physical abuse at the hands of Rabbis and educators, and the ways in which the abused were neglected – and their abusers left unpunished, even protected.
I found it very hard to read.
After the article came out, there was lots of sharing of it and comments on my Facebook feed. For most, this article was a long time coming – a concrete step toward increasing accountability, transparency and justice for the abused amongst us.
Yet there were other comments, too.
“The writer clearly is anti-semitic. You could tell.”
“He didn’t get any of the facts about our community right. And he definitely has a grudge toward religious people.”
“What a chillul Hashem. I mean, these stories are old. They happened so long ago. What’s the point of putting all this out there?”
And I get that it’s painful when our communities are misrepresented – when our idiosyncrasies and beliefs are misconstrued like special effects in a bad horror film.
But too many times, we are so busy protecting our image that we’re missing the point.
If the writer indeed has a bias toward Observant Jews, does that make the abuse more tolerable? Less heinous?
If the writer misrepresented our community, does that make our actions more forgivable?
And if the publication of these tragic stories and how those with power failed so many create a chillul Hashem, does that mean the plight of victims is less worthy of being shared?
How much abuse has been hidden, how many children’s pain neglected, how many victimizers protected because we did not want to make a chillul Hashem? Because somehow, we believe that covering up the pain will bring G-d delight?
We live in communities that value privacy and protecting our reputations more that absolutes in right and wrong.
And this is a heavy, useless burden to bear. Trust me, I know.
We celebrate lack of authenticity and duplicitous living if it means our communities and our values look desirable to others – if it makes Torah Judaism look good.
Yet G-d does not need us to protect His reputation — nor to use Him to protect ours.
We are created in His image and we have been entrusted with the profound responsibility to act G-dly. To behave in ways that reflect His will. To be good.
When someone abuses a child, they are making the most grave, vile, shameful kind of chillul Hashem. When someone silences a victim or protects an abuser, they are humiliating G-d’s presence as He watches in pain.
When they act to hide the abuse, they put G-d in hiding.
And that is the worst kind of chillul Hashem. The kind we must detest the most.
How do we create space for G-d, how do we reflect His ways, not through fear or a paranoid sense of self-preservation?
When we are courageous and proud. Authentic and of integrity. Attuned to our power and responsibility.
When we pursue justice and truth.
And how do we truly sanctify G-d and His name?
Look into the eyes of someone who’s been abused, shunned or shamed through the will of another, and say:
“I am here for you. I believe in you. I will protect you. I will do whatever I can to help you through your unimaginable pain.
I will stop at nothing to protect others like you from ever being hurt again.
I will hold all our teachers and leaders and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and friends and cousins and neighbors responsible and accountable for the pain they inflict. For the wounds that still must heal.
You have my word.
For we are one.
You, me, and G-d.
And when I show my love for you… I show my love for Him.”