Jewish Ethics

Jews are Ambassadors to the World

An ambassador is constantly aware of his tremendous responsibility. He knows that he represents his country and that they will be judged based on his actions and words.

As Jews walking around with kippas on our heads or dressed modestly in skirts, it is imperative that we realize what we represent. As observant Jews, we are ambassadors of Hashem. How we act and the way we speak reflect on Torah Judaism as a whole.
I wonder if we realize how serious this is.
As a rav in Northern California, I am sometimes made painfully aware of this reality. Jews I teach, who sincerely want to grow in their connection to Judaism and who admire Torah Jews, read articles of chillul Hashem (desecrating the name of G-d) online and are disillusioned by them. This has happened to me a number of times, but I will highlight two incidents in particular.
Case #1: In 2011, a young religious girl in Ramat Beit Shemesh was supposedly harassed by a “religious fanatic.” Articles posted online were forwarded to me by Jews I mentor asking how a religious Jew can act in such a way. Does this person realize that he made an international chillul Hashem with his actions, and also caused sincere Jews to become less interested in Torah Judaism?
Case #2: Recently, a very religious woman was interviewed making statements that were arguably both outrageous and scientifically false. Her comments were widely broadcast and shared on the Internet. I was forwarded her interview by more than one person, asking if her outlandish comments represent the Torah viewpoint. I was also told by individuals that as Jews they were embarrassed to be connected to her in the eyes of their puzzled non-Jewish coworkers.
Rav Yisroel Salanter said, “When frum Jews gossip in Vilna, Jews will desecrate Shabbos in Paris.” In today’s world, this reality is tangible. Kiddush Hashem and Chillul Hashem can be spread worldwide within minutes. If a frum Jew acts wrongly, thousands of miles away in California, a not-yet-observant Jew may read about it and decide that Torah Judaism is irrelevant because Orthodox Jews are no better than anyone else.
Yet, just as I have seen how chillul Hashem can cause incalculable damage, I have been fortunate to see the positive impact of Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d's Name). 

A recent baal teshuva, “Natan,” joined our community. In an early conversation, I asked Natan what influenced him to leave his liberal secular lifestyle and become frum. Natan explained that a few years earlier he had started listening to a news commentator whose intelligent analyses impressed him. When he found out the commentator was a religious Jew, it caused Natan to see Torah Judaism as a realistic option to consider. One step led to another and today Natan is completely frum.
This news commentator has no idea that he now receives credit for Natan’s becoming frum, along with Natan’s future descendants. Simply by being a person of intelligence and integrity, as well as keeping the mitzvoth of the Torah, he was able to impact a fellow Jew and lead him back to a life of Torah.
As individuals, and as a community, we can and must take action to increase the Kiddush Hashem and decrease the Chillul Hashem. Here are three suggestions.

  1. We need to know that in every interaction with our neighbors, co-workers, and strangers we are ambassadors of Hashem. Every time we say hello with a smile to a cashier and ask how her day is going, every time we thank another person sincerely, every time we drive courteously or act with integrity by refusing to make compromises on government taxes — we contribute to creating a positive view of what Torah Jews truly are.
  2. We need to unequivocally denounce real chillul Hashem. Ignoring it by saying nothing is perceived as tacit approval. We need to denounce chillul Hashem for the sake of our own integrity, the integrity of our communities, as well as for the chinuch of our children.
  3. We need to use the power of mass media and the Internet to share stories of kiddush Hashem.

For example, in September 2013, R’ Noah Muroff purchased a desk from a non-Jewish woman on Craigslist. After returning home and removing part of the desk to make it fit the room, he found $98.000 cash in the desk. He was certain it belonged to the original owner, as she had told him that she had built the desk herself.
With his wife and four children, he went to the woman to return the money and made a tremendous Kiddush Hashem in her eyes. A few months later, R’ Muroff told this story to Reb Shmuel Kamenetsky. Reb Shmuel told him very strongly that he has an obligation to publicize this story in the mass media so that the world can see a true example of the integrity of Torah Jews. The story was reported on CNN, ABC, CBS among others, creating a world-wide Kiddush Hashem.
In another beautiful story, Mr. Sol Werdiger received a request for a lunch meeting from the former South Korean Ambassador to the United Nation, Oh Joon. Mr. Joon told Mr. Werdiger, that his daughter had worked as an intern for Mr. Werdiger and had shared with him her positive impressions of Orthodox Jews. She told her father how she was treated with utmost respect and dignity, how Mr. Werdiger gave charity to petitioners who came, how both Jewish and non-Jewish workers were sent home early on Friday afternoons and how the men stopped in the middle of their workday at 1:30 pm to enter a room and pray.
Mr. Joon told Mr. Werdiger that because of the positive impression of Jews he had based on his daughter’s experience, he had used his voting rights at the United Nations for Israel’s benefit.
Because ambassadors have a real impact.

First published in Hamodia

Rabbi Menachem Levine is the Rav of Kehillas Am Echad in San Jose, California. He is a popular speaker and has written for numerous publications.
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