Last week’s stretch of the week was: In a making a decision this week, try to consider the Kiddush HaShem implications of your choice.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
We are often told that the outward appearance of others should not matter to us. Don't judge a book by its cover. Or the Pirkei Avos version: al tistakel bakankan e'la b'ma she'yaysh bo. (Don't look at the container, but rather, what is inside it.) We work on judging others favorably. We lament that so many people label others by the exteriors: black hat or knitted yamulka, instead of their character traits or spiritual values .
However, as we continue our study of the concept of Kiddush HaShem we see the other side of the coin. The outer appearance, the impression that we make on others is at the core of this mitzva.
Why is this so? Because the Jewish people's image in the world (to ourselves and to others) can hasten or slow the final redemption. One way for others to begin to appreciate HaShem is to be aware of His special attention that he gives to us, as individuals and as a people. It may be difficult for others to realize what HaShem's role in the life of an individual is because it can often be explained away. The recovery of a person from illness can be attributed to medical professionals. The success of someone's business can be seen as that person's business acumen.
However, when HaShem's special attention to us as a nation is witnessed by others it is harder to explain away. When large numbers of Jews act in unity, performing mitzvos, HaShem's special attention can be seen, creating even more Kiddush HaShem in the world. (Think of the Siyum Hashas at Metlife stadium when thousands of Jews celebrated their completion of the Talmud!) How many people were influenced to begin or increase their Torah learning because of that one event?
On an individual level, we must be vigilantly aware of how our actions are perceived. Even actions that are perfectly permissible must not allow for the slightest suspicion. We must try to act lifnim meshuras hadin, beyond the letter of the law, to be without blemish in the eyes of others. We learn that Moshe, our teacher, wore special clothing for his service in the Mishkan, Tabernacle that had no pockets or folds. Would anyone have suspected Moshe of stealing something from the Mishkan? But, even his garments prevented the whisper of a suspicion.
We cannot act in a way that may cause suspicion of any kind.
(Reproduced from Living Kiddush Hashem by Rabbi Shraga Freedman, with permission of the author. For more resources, please contact: email@example.com.)
Story: (based on a true story)
My neighbor Sarah is collecting admission money at the door for a crowded school Chinese Auction event. I'm happy to see her there, because I owe her a few dollars for some items she picked up for me at the grocery. I go to the table and pay the admission, but I also want to repay Sarah the money I owe her. Sarah explains that she may not accept personal money and put it in her wallet while she is working the door, lest someone suspect that she is taking the school's money.
Here's another scenario:
A store owner wants to get the local religious shoppers to come into his store, hoping that they will become frequent customers and increase his business. He decides he is going to sell plastic containers that come marked 'meat', 'dairy' or 'pareve', and, he prices them as a loss leader (a very low price, breaking even or losing money, as a way to draw in customers). Early in the morning, the first few customers come in and buy dozens of containers and little else. By the afternoon, he has none left, and customers leave annoyed. His business plan was a failure.
What are the kiddush HaShem implications of this incident?
What might the store owner think of the early shoppers, and by extension, all Jews?
Of course, the store owner could have made a quantity limit, but how many of us have gotten around such limits by having our husbands or children buy for us? Even though that is not prohibited, how does this incident raise our awareness of the hidden implications of our actions?
This incident, in particular, could feed the stereotype of Jews as "cheap". While many are offended by this stereotype, others almost wear it as a badge of honor: "My Jewish mother is the greatest bargain hunter", or "Jews never buy retail". In light of our understanding of kiddush HaShem, are these types of self-deprecating comments acceptable?
In the earlier mentioned incident, where Sarah could not accept the repayment of funds while she was collecting money for the school event, how do we reconcile the need to be completely above suspicion with the mitzva to judge others favorably? If we saw Sarah putting money in her wallet, wouldn't we be obligated to assume it was her personal money and not the school's money?
Can you give other examples of usually permissible actions that could be misinterpreted?
Stretch of the Week:
Go out of your way to be sure that your actions will not be misinterpreted by others.