You shall not desecrate My Holy Name. I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the Lord Who sanctifies you. (22:32)
There are two frequently mentioned concepts in classical Jewish literature; kiddush Hashem and chillul Hashem. Kiddush Hashem means that we should act in a fashion that reflects well upon Jews, Torah and G-d. Chillul Hashem means that we should not act in way that denigrates Jews, Torah and G-d. These things are more than just a good idea; they are actual mitzvot.
How does one desecrate G-d’s name? The Talmud (Yoma 86a) says that when someone who should know better yet acts in a way that is perceived to be beneath him, it is a desecration of G-d’s name. For example, Rav, the preeminent 3rd century scholar, said that for him, if he didn’t pay his butcher on time he would be denigrating the good name of Jews, G-d, and the Torah. Not paying on time does not seem to be a grave offence but for a role model of Rav’s stature, it reflects badly on all teachers of Torah. It is similar to the scenario when a policeman acts wrongly; it gives a bad name to all police. Each of us at our own level is responsible to strive to act upward and not stoop down.
If a Jew does an action that causes people to say, “is that how Jews act” or “is that how religious people behave,” (s)he has caused a chillul HaShem, a desecration of G-d’s name. In Jewish consciousness, this is considered so damaging that the Talmud (ibid.) tells us that not even Yom Kippur can cleanse a person from this ‘stain.’
Kiddush Hashem is the inverse of the above. It is when we behave in a manner that reflects well on G-d and Torah and causes the onlooker to say, “look at these Jews; they are amazing.”
The call to action to sanctify G-d’s name as well as the prohibition to desecrate It, are mitzvot commonly discussed in Jewish writings and found throughout our prayers. The question is, why is this so important; being as G-d is all powerful, does it really make a difference to Him that His name is sanctified or desecrated?
G-d definitely does not need it; these mitzvot aid us in living to our potential. When a person realizes that (s)he stands before G-d, it leads to humility because no matter how many Nobel prizes, Gold Medals, or other awards of distinction you possess, they are insignificant when compared to the most loving and powerful Being in the world. If one thinks, “how will I look” before doing an action, (s)he is only thinking of himself or herself. However, when a person has a more sublime thought and thinks “is this action something pleasing to the Creator of the universe and Jews or is it something that causes disgrace,” then (s)he demonstrates that (s)he lives for something more than himself or herself. We live this concept in our daily lives. “Will this make us-the company, team, social/political movement, family, army, or any other group to which we belong and represent-look good?” By having this in mind in decisions and actions, the person shows that (s)he lives for more than himself or herself. So, too, with G-d; if one thinks about how this action will make G-d and the Jewish people look, (s)he is living for something greater than mere self.
The next step is to realize that if I live for something greater than myself, it must be that I have a purpose. This is one of the greatest mental states to bring to mind when a person is feeling depressed and worthless. I have a purpose; I am not a worthless piece of junk-no matter how low I have fallen. A person might have ruined countless relationships and distanced people who love them from their lives but if that person can turn off the negative thoughts for a few moments and realize that the very fact that G-d has granted the person another day of life must mean that He believes in him or her. Imagine this scenario: a person came late to work, was drunk, and as a result was disrespectful to employees and customers and realizing what she did, ran away. That night the boss called and said, “Today, you were not you. Please come back tomorrow and return to the team.” That vote of confidence is the encouragement the person needed to remain engaged and to realize her worth. So, too, with G-d. No matter how much a person might feel he has messed up his life, the fact that you have been granted another day is G-d’s vote of confidence in you, which in turn should cause you to realize that you have a purpose in the world.
We are required to sanctify G-d’s name and refrain from desecrating it because it gives us an awareness that we live for something greater than ourselves. With this mindset, it is hard to be selfish or egotistical because it enjoins us to have an awareness that living just for myself is not an option. It also makes it hard to be depressed or lose hope. When these negative thoughts begin to take over, remember, I was given life; therefore, I have a purpose in the world. Happiness does not need to be elusive or distant but it might take serious mental focus about your unique role in the world and how no one else but you can fulfill it.
May we all appreciate our uniqueness and realize that our life has purpose.
(Source: M’Rosh Emunah pp. 240-241)