June 18, 2024
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An Extra Measure to Prevent Chilul Hashem

Moshe Rabbeinu, when informing the Egyptians of the tenth plague that would arrive, says, “So said Hashem, ‘At around midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die…’” (Shemot 11:4-5). Rashi points out that although Hashem’s original message to Moshe was that he would smite the gyptians “at midnight,” Moshe Rabbeinu, when relating Hashem’s message to the Egyptians, nevertheless changed Hashem’s precise terminology and instead said that Hashem would go out at “around midnight.” Rashi explains that Moshe told the Egyptians “around midnight” instead of the more definite “at midnight” since Pharaoh’s astrologers would make an error in calculation [and believe in retrospect that Hashem didn’t go out at exactly midnight] and thus say that Moshe is a liar. To prevent this, Moshe said “around midnight.”

As if nine intense plagues were not enough to prove the veracity of Moshe Rabbeinu’s word, Moshe still went out of his way to “accommodate” the potential error of Pharaohs astrologers. The obvious question is, at this point in the game where Moshe has an exemplary record of truthfulness, the astrologers should realize that if they see it’s not exactly midnight, it is them who made a mistake, not Moshe! So why was Moshe so careful, to the point that he changed Hashem’s language, to make sure he would remain clean from accusation?

Perhaps we can explain that as a Jew, especially someone of Moshe’s caliber, we have a responsibility to go out of our way to ensure we are perceived by others as righteous. Moshe perhaps understood that a Jew is one who represents Hashem, and if an outsider deems this Jew as less than proper, it reflects negatively on Hashem Himself, and ultimately this can cause a chillul Hashem. Therefore, Moshe went “out of his way” and changed Hashem’s language in order that the Egyptians not think Moshe is a liar, which would then reflect adversely on Hashem.

Nowadays, each of us, no matter where we are holding in our spiritual affairs, are looked upon as the people who represent God, and therefore people may judge God based on our behavior. I saw a story where Rav Yaakov Galinsky was once traveling on a bus when the driver caught a religious boy trying to ride the bus without paying the fare. The driver taunted Rav Galinsky, “Rabbi, look how your ‘rabbis’ behave.” Rav Galinsky joked, “You are better than our yeshivas—they don’t give ordination at such a young age!” Afterwards he chastised the boy, “You may be a young boy, but you represent the entire religious community, and we are all judged through you.”

Even if we may not think we are on such a high spiritual level, we still need to keep in mind that other people may think we are, and may judge Hashem and the Jewish people as a whole through us.

This idea of making sure not to cause a chillul Hashem can also turn into a moment of tremendous kiddush Hashem. I saw an astonishing message someone sent me that occured in the aftermath of the recent Siyum HaShas. The operations manager of one of the venues wrote a statement expressing her absolute disbelief at what she and her staff experienced from the siyum. “We have a security cupboard in which we allow guests to deposit anything deemed dangerous or inappropriate. At an event this size we would normally have between 700-1,000 items. Tonight we held nothing. There was not a single incidence of drunkenness, boisterous or rowdy behavior. Not a single one. I have been at the Arena for 28 months and accommodated over 300 events in that time. Never have we had no incidence. All the team were blown away by the amount of thank yous we received at the end of the evening. I actually thought everyone had been instructed to do this! I am devastated that the Siyum only takes place once every seven years. This event was a delight for all of us.”

We can say a little bit of rowdy behavior is normal and expected, and at an event of this size you would surely expect some mishaps or regular issues that come up. However, when we go above and beyond to make sure not cause the slightest chillul Hashem, what many times occurs is an outstanding kiddush Hashem.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He currently learns in Eretz Yisrael and is the author of the Sephardic Congregation of Paramus’ weekly Torah Talk. He can be reached at [email protected].

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