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    Chillul HaShem – Emor

    The Wicked Son, from the Amsterdam Haggadah, 1695

    The Wicked Son, from the Amsterdam Haggadah, 1695

    Everyone knows that they shouldn’t desecrate the Name of God. We call that Chillul HaShem.

    Chillul applies in many contexts including, as this week’s Torah reading puts it, “desecrating kod’shei B’nei Yisra’el, the sacred things of the Children of Israel” (Lev. 22:15).

    Not treating sacred things properly is the subject of a grave warning in the Pir’kei Avot (3:11), “He who profanes holy things and despises the festivals… has no portion in the world to come”.

    This passage could well be a response to the wicked son of the Haggadah. That son has a good mind amply stocked with learning and knowledge, but he scoffs at the practices and traditions about which he knows so much.

    He says to his father or whoever is conducting the Seder, “What does this procedure mean to you?”

    The Haggadah notes that he doesn’t say “to us” but “to you”, since he disassociates himself from the sanctities of the Jewish people.

    He can give you a whole academic discourse about the history, linguistics, sociology and comparative theology of Jewish practice, but he doesn’t identify with it. His mind is engaged – but not his heart.

    So what do we do? The Haggadah says, hak’heh et shinav, which most people translate, “Blunt his teeth!”

    Whatever this means, it clearly suggests, “Tell him off!”

    It could be, however, that a better translation is “Rebut his distortions”: talk to him and with him, and try to reason with him and persuade him that he is wrong.

    If this works, well and good; if not, remember the story of the man who came looking for Yankel the Apikoros (the unbeliever) and found Yankel studying a page of G’mara.

    “Are you really Yankel the unbeliever?” he stammered.

    “Of course I am Yankel,” said the man who was studying G’mara, “But I’m an unbeliever, not an ignoramus!”

    If the rasha is an unbeliever, time will hopefully warm his heart.

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