Two commands in this week’s parasha go to the core of what it means to be a Jew:

“Do not profane My holy name – that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelites.” (Vayikra 22:23)

What does it mean to sanctify or desecrate G-d’s name?

The late Rabbi Lord Sacks explained that a “name” is how we are known to others. G-d’s “name” is therefore His standing in the world. Do people acknowledge Him? Do people respect Him? Do people honour Him?

The commands of kiddush HaShem (sanctifying G-d’s Name) and chillul HaShem (desecrating G-d’s Name) locate that responsibility in the conduct and fate of the Jewish people. This is what the prophet Isaiah meant when he said: “‘You are My witnesses’ so says the L-d… ‘that I am He.’” (Isaiah 43:10). Therefore, when we behave in a way that evokes admiration for Judaism as a faith and as a way of life, then that is a kiddush HaShem, a sanctification of G-d’s name. If, G-d forbid, we do the opposite – when we betray Judaism and the Jewish way of life, causing people to have contempt for the G-d of Israel, and to say: I cannot respect a religion, or a G-d, that inspires people to behave in such a way, – that is a chillul HaShem, a desecration of G-d’s name.

No nation has been given a greater or more fateful responsibility. It exists at every level in the community, each in our own way.

As Maimonides writes in his Mishneh Torah speaking about kiddush HaShem:

If a person is scrupulous in their conduct, gentle in their conversation, pleasant toward their fellow creatures, affable in manner when receiving, not retorting even when affronted, but showing courtesy to all, even to those who treat them with disdain, conducting their business affairs with integrity…and doing more than their duty in all things, while avoiding extremes and exaggerations – such a person has sanctified G-d. (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:11)

This Shabbat is Women’s Shabbat in St John’s Wood shul. We are celebrating two women who exemplify these values of kiddush HaShem, sanctifying G-d’s name. Caroline Gillis and Sandrah Sebbah are individuals who are loved, admired, and respected. They bring honour to their families, their communities and to the name of G-d. Meeting them and knowing them enhances the name of Judaism and the Jewish people in the society in which we live.

It is our pleasure to honour them this Shabbat.