Op-Ed: The Lockdown and “Kiddush Hashem”

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By Rabbi Yehoshua Katzman

Over the past few weeks, we have heard people saying to avoid doing certain things so as not to make a chillul Hashem. We have been told to refrain from even doing things that normally would be considered a mitzvah, such as tefilah b’tzibbur and tefilah b’bais haknesses.

Even in cases where there is no risk of infection and no legal issues, such as davening outdoors, people are saying that we must keep the minyan to ten men at maximum in order to avoid chillul Hashem. Being that the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem and the aveirah of chillul Hashem were found in this past week’s Parshah, I would like to elaborate a bit about the true meaning of these mitzvos.

ויקרא פרק כב פסוק לא לב

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם֙ מִצְוֹתַ֔י וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם אֲנִ֖י יְקֹוָֽק: וְלֹ֤א תְחַלְּלוּ֙ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֔י וְנִ֨קְדַּשְׁתִּ֔י בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֲנִ֥י יְקֹוָ֖ק מְקַדִּשְׁכֶֽם:

Rashi and the Ramban both understand that the simple explanation of the posuk is that there is no new mitzvah being said here; rather, it is simply a reinforcement of all mitzvos. The posuk is teaching us that when one keeps the mitzvos, he is being mekadesh the name of Hashem, as through him the word of Hashem is being upheld. Conversely, one who does not keep the mitzvos is nullifying the word of Hashem and making it chullin. The pesukim are not telling us anything new that we must do or not do. They are saying that after we learnt all the mitzvos, we should remember that by observing them we are being mekadesh shaim hashem and by not keeping the mitzvos we are being mechalel shaim Hashem.

However, it is well known that there is a mitzvah of kiddush Hashem and, by contrast, an aveirah of chillul Hashem, and, as the Gemara at the end of Masechas Yoma explains, that is the most severe of all aveiros.

I once heard from Rav Meir Soloveitchik zt”l: כל ימי גדלתי בין הגדולים ולא שמעתי לא קידוש השם ולא חילול .השם

Rav Meir Soloveitchik grew up in the home of the Brisker Rov. Being the youngest of the Rov’s sons, his father was already a recognized godal hador in prewar Europe when he was a child. He would visit Rav Chaim Ozer, Rav Boruch Ber, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, and other gedolim of that era. In the post-war years, when he settled in Eretz Yisroel, he would visit the Chazon Ish, Rav Isser Zalman, Rav Aharon Kotler, and the gedolei Eretz Yisroel. And he said that he never recalls them ever discussing whether to do something because it would be a kiddush Hashem or to refrain from doing something because of a possible chillul Hashem. Additionally, whether some action resulted in a kiddush Hashem or a chillul Hashem was never used as a gauge to determine if that action was correct or not.

The Rambam in Sefer Hamtzvos delineates both the esei of kiddush Hashem and the lo sa’aseh of chillul Hashem, and explains three ways one can transgress the prohibition of chillul Hashem.

  1. One must give up his life rather than allow himself to transgress one of the three aveiros chamuros, and during a time of shmad one must give up his life rather than transgress any mitzvah.
  2. If someone does an aveirah that he derives no pleasure from, and merely does it for the sake of doing an aveirah, that is a chillul Hashem.
  3. A respected person that does something that is not proper for someone of his status in front of others who see what he has done has transgressed the prohibition of making a chillul Hashem.

Clearly, the Rambam is telling us that there is a specific mitzvah not to make a chillul Hashem. He is disagreeing with Rashi, who says that it is just a general mitzvah to keep all the mitzvos of the Torah; rather, it is a specific prohibition to perform acts of sin in instances where they might otherwise not be prohibited, however it is clear that only if this act is an sin. For example, in his first scenario, the individual is an “oines”, as he is forced to by others to perform the sin. The only reason he still may not do it is because of the prohibition to refrain from making a chillul Hashem, which requires him to give up his life rather than transgress.

In the third scenario, the Rambam is adding that even acts that are not technical an aveirah will be considered a chillul Hashem if others perceive them as sinful.

The underlying message of the Rambam is that if one performs an act that is perceived as an aveirah, he has committed a chillul Hashem by not refraining from the aveirah; however, it is clear that doing a mitzvah or seemingly good deed cannot be considered a chillul Hashem, even if some may perceive it as the wrong thing to do.

If we look deeper, it seems that one may not refrain from doing a mitzvah out of fear that others will look negatively at this mitzvah. In fact, the mussar sefarim actually speak very strongly against such a mindset.

רבינו יונה יסוד התשובה: ואל יניח משום ענין לא מפני עצלות ולא מפני בושה. ואפי’ אם יהיו העולם מתלוצצים עליו, מ”מ יש לו להיות כפתי בעיניהם, ולא יעבור מצוה קטנה ממצות הבורא, שעל זה נאמר באהבתה תשגה תמיד, כלומר באהבתה של מצוה תהי’ שוגה ופתי, להניח כל עסקיך ולדון בה. ודוגמת זה מצינו בר’ אלעזר בן פדת, שהיה יושב בצד שוק התחתון של צפורי ןעוסק בתורה וסדינו מוטל בצד שוק העליון והיה נראה כפתי בעיני העולם בשביל אהבת מצות הבורא לעסוק בתורה.

מסילת ישרים פרק ה: והמפסיד השלישי הוא החברה, דהיינו, חברת הטפשים והחוטאים, והוא מה שהכתוב אומר ‘ורועה כסילים ירוע’. כי הנה אנחנו רואים פעמים רבות אפילו אחר שנתאמת אצל האדם חובת העבודה והזהירות בה, יתרפה ממנה או יעבור על איזה דברים ממנה כדי שלא ילעגו עליו חבריו או כדי להתערב עמהם, והוא מה ששלמה מזהיר ואומר ‘ועם שונים אל תתערב’. כי אם יאמר לך אדם, לעולם תהא דעתו של אדם מעורבת עם הבריות, אף אתה אמור לו, במה דברים אמורים, בבני אדם שעושים מעשי אדם, אך לא בבני אדם שעושים מעשי בהמה. ושלמה מזהיר ‘לך מנגד לאיש כסיל’. ודוד המלך אמר ‘אשרי האיש אשר לא הלך וגו’, וכבר פירשו, זכרונם לברכה אם הלך, סופו לעמוד. ואם עמד, סופו לישב. ואומר ‘לא – ישבתי עם – מתי – שוא וגו’ שנאתי קהל מרעים וגו’. אין לו לאדם אלא להטהר ולנקות עצמו, ולמנוע רגליו מדרכי ההמון השקועים בהבלי הזמן, וישיב רגליו אל חצרות ה’ ואל משכנותיו. הוא שדוד עצמו מסיים ואומר ‘ארחץ בנקיון כפי ואסובבה את מזבחך ה’. ואם יארע לו שימצא בחברת מי שילעג עליו, לא ישית לבו אל הלעג ההוא, אדרבא, ילעג על מלעיגיו ויבזם, ויחשוב בדעתו כי לולי היה לו להרויח ממון הרבה, ההיה מניח מה שהיה צריך לזה מפני חבריו שלא ילעגו! כל – שכן שלא ירצה לאבד נשמתו מפני לעג. ועל דרך זה הזהירו ז”ל הוי עז כנמר וכו’ לעשות רצון אביך שבשמים, ודוד אמר ‘ואדברה בעדותיך נגד מלכים ולא אבוש’, וישעיה כמו כן אמר ‘על – כן שמתי פני כחלמיש ואדע כי – לא אבוש’.

In regard to the concept of “eivah”, while we definitely have to be careful with our actions not to give others reasons to hate us, it must be noted that something which is legal may be done and cannot be called a cause of eivah. Eivah is a strong reason to avoid breaking a law or doing something clearly ridiculous. But if we are not doing anything wrong, it is not our concern if others still don’t like what we are doing.

In regard to minyanim, both indoors and, more relevantly, outdoors, the low is extremely unclear. Even the state attorney agrees that they do not have clear guidance. Additionally, there is a strong reason to believe that davening cannot be outlawed. Therefore, as long as it is being done in a safe and reasonable manner, it is hard to see a reason not to do it either because of chillul Hashem or eivah.

More importantly, in regard to eivah, the Patterson Rosh Yeshiva pointed out that when one brings up this issue, one needs to determine if he is being cautious so as not to cause eivah, or if he is trying to curry favor in the eyes of others. Yes, we don’t need to cause any eivah, but why do we need to find favor in their eyes?

It would definitely be considered reckless to ignore precautions and restrictions meant to stop the spread of the virus; however, merely keeping everything in lockdown mode may be called unwise, as the Mesilas Yesharim writes:

ספר מסילת ישרים פרק ט: דע כי יש יראה ויש יראה: יש יראה ראויה ויש יראה שוטה, יש בטחון ויש הוללות. כי הנה האדון ברוך – הוא עשה את האדם בעל שכל נכון וסברא נכוחה לשינהג עצמו על דרך טוב וישמר מן הדברים המזיקים אשר נבראו לענוש את הרשעים, ומי שירצה שלא ינהג עצמו בדרך החכמה ויפקיר עצמו לסכנות, הנה אין זה בטחון, אלא הוללות. והנה הוא חוטא במה שהוא נגד רצון הבורא יתברך שמו, שרוצה שישמור האדם את עצמו. ונמצא שמלבד הסכנה המוטבעת בדבר אשר הוא עלול אליה מפני חסרון שמירתו, הנה עוד הוא מתחיב בנפשו בקום עשה בחטא אשר הוא חוטא, ונמצא החטא עצמו מביאו ליענש. ואולם השמירה הזאת, וזאת היראה המיוסדת על הנהגת החכמה והשכל, היא הראויה, שעליה נאמר (משלי כב): ערום ראה רעה ונסתר ופתיים עברו ונענשו. אך היראה השוטה היא, שיהיה האדם רוצה להוסיף שמירות על שמירות ויראה על יראה, ועושה משמרת למשמרתו באופן שיגיע מזה ביטול לתורה ולעבודה.

{Matzav.com}

25 COMMENTS

  1. In areas of halacah one must have a Morah Horah! Different circumstances call for specific questions and directive.

    One of the biggest dangers is one who considers themselves qualified to pasken sans shimush and approbation.

    • Dear 1:34pm Crow, you are wrong. The biggest danger is those that consider themselves qualified to pasken keneged halacha, and shimush doesn’t make treif any more kosher. The emes is emes, and sheker is sheker, irrelevant of who said it. Shutting down the shuls carpet-bombing style, without keeping open with social distancing modifications, all in the name of misinterpreted “kidush H”(i.e. seeking goyishe approval), is keneged halacha, pure and simple, and actually is the definition of chilul H, as numerous mitsvos were lost, and the repercussions of tsibur loosing trust that their leaders have not gone anti-halacha open-orthodox.

  2. This commentary by Rabbi Yehoshua Katzman is exactly correct. It contains a major reason of why I advocated to restart minyanim within the guidelines of the government, which never banned the gatghering of 10 people.

  3. WELLL SAID!!!!!! WELL WELLL SAID!!!!! HALACHA ISNT ABOUT MAKING THE GOYIM LIKE US!! If halacha requires us to to do something we dont care whet they think! If one has shatznez in his pants the gemarah says its a kiddish hashem to take off ones pants birabim!!!! Theres a reason why the bnei tora are still making minyanim because we want to do ratzon hahsem!!!!

  4. You DO have to be concerned about eiva because you’re in golus, Rabbi.
    I’m concerned about yidden when they will, when this is over, take trains, busses, shop at malls: walk the streets etc.
    We stick out and plenty haters looking to inflict harm on innocent yidden , Heaven forbid..
    There’s hate out there, so don’t say not to be concerned about eiva.
    It’s golus, let’s not be arrogant.

    • Excellent observation. I agree we should stop keeping the Torah and Mitzvos. It might somehow someway upset the goyim. You should also stop wearing a shaitel/snood when you go out in public. Tell your husband and boys not to wear a yarlmuka or a silly black hat when they go out. The goyim shouldn’t know you’re a Yid. Try mingle with them as much as possible. Act like them. Eat like them. Become them. Then they wont hate us. At least we know that worked in Germany. Mamesh brilliant. The fact that we are the Am nivchar was only a joke. The goyim are better than us. The laws they pass, like gay marriage and abortion, is something we should join and be proud of. Thank you so much for such an enlightened comment.
      In the meantime I’m moving to an underground bunker deep in the hills of Idaho. This way I can still practice being a Jew.

    • 3:59pm, let me ask you a question. Do you leave in a decent house and drive a decent car? Aren’t you concerned with angering the envious goyim with your showcase of wealth? So shuls are expendable in your opinion, while your wealth is more important. You need to do tshuva.
      As far as physical security, it takes the second amendment to guarantee the first. It is relatively easy to obtain a home permit even in NY and NJ.

      • Before admonishing one to do tshuva, you should first do cheshbon hanefesh and figure out whether you are qualified to tell someone else to do tshuva.

      • Exactly. I hope you practice what you preach and stay home for Chal Hamoed and the summer. If the goyim see you go to their parks and vacation destinations, that will arouse jealousy and they will hate yidden. Stay in your daled amos and zye shtill. Shhh.

  5. What do I tell my teenage Son whose been home for the past 2 months about the Yeshiva that is open down the block from us. Mind you this is the same Yeshiva that has no supervision at night and the bochurim wander the streets till all hours of the night.
    I decided to answer him with one word
    Gaavah. They have a superiority complex that they are better than everybody else.

  6. Very nice article but I think there is a big misconception here. The reason we are not having minyonim has nothing to do with chillul Hashem. It is because of pikuach nefesh. Two totally different concepts.

    As a side note, while it is a chillul Hashem if we don’t follow the rules, I don’t think it is a kiddush Hashem to follow the rules. It’s like saying it’s a kiddush Hashem if we stop at red lights.

    Bottom line is our rabbonim paskened that we are not allowed to make minyonim – or we are with certain guidelines – because of a health issue. This is a psak halocho like any other halocho and we have to follow it. The fact that we are following the halocho isn’t something to be overly proud of – this is what it means to be a Jew.

    Let’s continue to do what’s right in all aspects of life.

    • Dear 4:48pm, the main premise of your argument is wrong: if the reason really was pikuach nefesh only, then it would have been enough to institute very strict social distancing measures and continue with tfila betzibur. Obviously the shuls closing was caused by other cheshbonos, and the problem is using other cheshbonos(besides pikuach nefesh) to cancel out halacha pshuta. If our leaders have gone open-orthodox, they loose ability to make a psak halacha, at least in this particular matter. By the way, not all rabonim were for shutting down minyanim – some were forced by the “experts” to sign the letters, and some resisted signing but kept quiet nevertheless, again out of fear of the “experts”.

  7. I once heard from Rav Meir Soloveitchik zt”l: כל ימי גדלתי בין הגדולים ולא שמעתי לא קידוש השם ולא חילול .השם

    Among many other things: Lo reyinu ainay Rayah.

    Yes, we don’t need to cause any eivah, but why do we need to find favor in their eyes?

    Aside from the fact that most things that don’t find favor in their eyes will automatically cause eiva, the Gemorah does seem pretty clear that we have to try to live in accordance with a manner that the Briyos will say “Ashrei Ploni S’Lomod Torah” about us

  8. I personally heard Rav Meir Soloveitchik זצ”ל say this in the name of his father the *Brisker Rav* and he stressed that remembers and is telling us the exact words.
    וז”ל, כל ימי גידלתי בין החכמים און איך האב קיינמאל ניט געהערט פון זיי צווי ווערטער, קידוש ה’ און חילול ה’, עכ”ל

  9. There are more liberal secular Jews who can stand the sight of Jews looking like Jews and making them embarrassed. We have all met those kinds. This sickness has Crawled into certain orthodox circles unfortunately. So many of these look proper types fear expressing their opposition to gay marriage. They don’t want to anger the liberal democrats.

  10. The Rebbetzin is 100% correct.
    This is a plague, people are dying by thousands. What does this have to do with wearing a yarmulkah in public in ordinary times.
    They’re already blaming Jews for illness and deaths. What comparison is this to other mitzvos in ordinary times?

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