In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Emor, we read, “You shall faithfully observe My commandments: I am the Eternal. You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people…” (Lev 22:31-32) What does it mean to profane or to sanctify G-d’s name? Many people think that this is about using G-d’s name in vain – swearing on G-d’s name or saying things like, “Oh my G-d,” but I think that the juxtaposition of “You shall faithfully observe My commandments” with “You shall not profane My holy name” has something more profound to teach us.
The way that we act in the world reflects our heritage, our culture, our religion, our families. I remember that my grandparents used to ask of the news: “Is it good for the Jews?” I know the embarrassment that I feel when a Jewish public figure does something wrong. Why should I feel embarrassed? I didn’t do the wrong thing. But I feel humiliated for what that person’s behavior might imply to others about Jews in general.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote, “G-d is G-d whatever we do or fail to do. But G-d, having set His [sic] image on every human being, took the risk of identifying His presence in history with one small people with whom he made a covenant in a lonely desert long ago, and that fact has charged Jewish existence with immense responsibility ever since. We are G-d’s witnesses. How the people of G-d behaves affects how G-d Himself is perceived.” This is not true only of Jews. Christians and indeed, the concept of the Christian G-d are judged by the acts of other Christians, Muslims as a whole by what individual Muslims do etc. We are all representatives of our family, faith, country, and indeed of humanity as a whole. If we are made in the image of G-d, and we behave unethically – what does that say about G-d? If we declare our Jewishness publicly and behave poorly, what does that say about the Jewish idea of G-d or the Jewish religion in general? We observe G-d’s commandments in order to not profane G-d’s name because, hopefully those commandments are a blueprint for living an ethical life. We should strive to be our best selves, because why else are we here if not to leave the world better than how we found it?
Cantor Sally Neff