You are about to walk into a meeting; what are you thinking? Most likely, how do you look, what will you say, will it go over well? There’s nothing wrong with these thoughts but they are all centered around you and they might lead to fear. What if I flop? Will I get another chance? Will I now be considered the fool at the office? Now imagine having a different mind frame, one which gives light rather than fright. It all begins with a seemingly unrelated mitzvah.
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)
Sanctification and desecration sound like irrelevant antiquated ideas but they are actually daily opportunities in the life of every Jew. Any time you do an action reflecting well on Jews and G-d, it is called sanctifying G-d’s name. It could be as simple as being nice to a worker at Target or returning change mistakenly given to you at checkout. Acting in the opposite manner, one which denigrates Jews and G-d is how one desecrates G-d’s name.
Sometimes it’s not the act, it’s the person. For example, 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. Rav, one of the most towering Jewish figures of the 3rd century, said that for him, if he didn’t pay his butcher on time he would be committing a Chillul Hashem (disgracing Jews and G-d). Not paying on time does not seem to be a grave offense but for a role model of Rav’s stature, it reflects badly on all Torah teachers. It is similar to the scenario when a policeman acts wrongly. (S)He doesn’t just bring disgrace on him/herself, it gives a bad name to all police. Each of us at our own level is responsible to represent Jews in a positive light.
Kiddush Hashem (sanctify G-d’s name) is the inverse of the above. It is when we behave in a manner that reflects well on G-d and His people, causing an onlooker to say, “look at these Jews; they are amazing.”
Here’s the question: Does G-d, omnipotent and all-powerful, really care about positive publicity? He definitely does not need it rather, it is actually an effective tool in achieving our potential. When people realize they stand before G-d, it leads to humility because no matter how strong or intelligent they are, no matter how many marks of distinction they possess, their significance is limited to the time and place in which they live. The most famous athletes, Hollywood celebs, and politicians of 60 years ago are mostly unknown to anyone born in the last five decades. Johnny Weissmuller, Rita Hayworth, and Gary Cooper are names unheard of to most people under 50 but in their day, there wasn’t an American who didn’t know who they were. Whatever degrees of success one manages to maintain during his or her finite lifetime is seen with a different perspective when thinking, is this what G-d would want me to do? If one thinks, “how will I look” before going to a meeting or doing some action, they are only thinking of themselves. However, when a person has a more sublime thought and thinks “is this action something pleasing to the Almighty, is this something that will bring pride or disgrace to the Jewish people, then they are living something greater than themselves. Instead of living in fear of what people will think at work and socially, reframe and ask yourself, I am Jewish, what can I bring to this conversation, meeting, or encounter? Life with this mindset becomes a limitless series of opportunities at work, in the store, and socially. A person can have fame and fortune and use them as opportunities but, with the wrong mind frame, that same success can be a source of fear, anxiety, or ego inflation. It’s all finite but you have the opportunity to use your thoughts and resources for a higher purpose, which makes them eternal. When 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 the people they love and the ones who love them, 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 them another day of life must mean that He believes in them.
Imagine this scenario: a person came an hour late to work and drunk. As a result, he was disrespectful to employees and customers and after realizing what he had done, he 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 was the needed encouragement for that man to remain engaged and realize his 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 more than ourselves. With this mindset, it is hard to be selfish or egotistical because we are enjoined to be aware that living just for myself is not an option. It also makes it hard to be depressed or lose hope. When negative thinking takes over, remember, I was given life; therefore, I have a purpose. 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.