The Talmud (Yoma 86a) comprises of four sins; each seems to surpass the other with the decree of their severity thus that goes without mentioning, the fourth sin is the worst of all.
So what exactly the fourth sin comprise of? What is so uniquely dreadful about the sin committing which the repentant are held far away from attaining repentance? And why is this type of sin is considered the worst sin? Well, enlisted below are answers to the common queries which generally people gave in them.
According to the Talmud, sins are grouped into four separate parts arranged by the level of their severity and the ability to achieve repentance. The Talmud thus provides us a clear insight to these sins and then surprises us by providing a clear explanation about what the fourth sin is all about and why this sin is the most severe kind. Let us look into that passage in the Talmud:
Rabbi Matthia ben Heresh asked Rabbi Eleazar b. Azariah in Rome that whether he had heard about the four kinds of sins that R. Ishmael has taught? To which he answered that there are three kinds and each associated with repentance -
1. If one transgressed a positive commandment, and then repented for it, he is forgiven immediately; as it is said: "Return, O backsliding children". (Jer. III, 14)
2. If one has transgressed a prohibition and then repented, that person’s forgiveness is held in abeyance and then together with the Day of Atonement, atonement is achieved, as it is said: "For on this day shall atonement be made for you from all your sins". (Lev. XVI, 30)
3. If one has committed a sin which is punished with spiritual extermination or death through the courts, and he repents, then forgiveness and the Day of Atonement are held in abeyance and it is only upon his suffering that the atonement is considered to be completed, for as it is mentioned: "Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with strokes". (Psalms. LXXXIX, 33)
Now at this point the Talmud introduces us to the fourth sin, which is the most severe of all:
4. This kind of sin says if one has been held guilty of the profanation of the Holy Name, (Chillul HaShem) then repentance has no power to alleviate the punishment, nor the Day of Atonement to achieve atonement, nor can suffering be of great help, but rather all three together are held in abeyance and only by death can repentance be achieved, as it is said: "And the Lord of hosts revealed Himself in my ears; this iniquity shall not be expiated by you until you die". (lsa. XXII, 14)
But what exactly one means with the phrase “profanation of the Holy Name”, (Chillul HaShem)? Although many people are under the impression that a Chillul HaShem is when a religious person does an action that is not apt with his upbringing, however this is not the case brought in our Talmud. To clarify this point Rashi mentioned that a Chillul HaShem is when a person sins and as well causes other to sin as well.
To provide a pure clarity to this point, the Talmud itself asks, what constitutes the Chillul HaShem? Rav as an example cited “like me if I were to take meat from the butcher and do not pay him at this time". Rashi elucidating further on this example explains that this is because if Rav, who was considered as one of the most important Rabbis of his generation, takes meat and delays payment, the butcher will surely take him as a gazlon (thief) and thus in the process the butcher will learn that it is acceptable to be lenient with thievery.
Abaye, a rabbi, further clarifies Rav's statement by stating: "That is only in a place where the merchant does not go out to collect payment, but in a place where he does go out to collect; there is no harm in it not paying at the time of the purchase.”
Ravina, another great rabbi of the time of the Talmud, said that in the area of Masa Mathia which is a place where merchants go out collecting payments never the less when Abaye bought meat from two partners, he paid money to each of them separately and then he brought them together and had them check and verify their monetary accounts with him before he took actual possession of his meat.
Rabbi Yochanan stated in regards to Chillul HaShem, "like me, if I were to walk four cubits without uttering words of Torah or wearing tefillin". Rashi explains that not everyone knew that Rabbi Yochanan was ill so when they saw him walking without learning they would learn from him that it is acceptable to slack off in their learning.
What we can finally conclude from this is that a Chillul HaShem is when others learn by seeing a person of stature doing something wrong and then since they are not learned, they assume that since this distinguished person does it, there is nothing wrong with doing a similar action.
Although the Talmud continues with the discussion about Chillul HaShem, it is interesting to note that the idea given to us by Rabbi Yosef Chaim in his great book, Ben Yehoyadah points out that the two cases mentioned above, Rav and Rabbi Yochanan are not applicable to the average person. Rav and Rabbi Yochanan were the greatest rabbis of their generations and the Talmud is talking of people of their lofty stature. If the average person were to neglect to pay the butcher or neglect to learn Torah as he walked down the street, the average person would not learn from him that such things are permitted. That is why both Rav and Rabbi Yochanan said "like me if I were to...” because people would learn from the actions of these great men to sin.
Thus a Chillul HaShem is not about doing a bad action; it is about giving the impression that this is permissible and acceptable. The more a person is respected and held in high esteem, the more critically will his actions be judged for contributing to a Chillul HaShem.
Thus it is advisable to know that one always cannot learn not so much just from a book, personal example from people they consider reliable are always required. Moreover religious people or those who by their outward garb give others indication that they are G-d fearing and scrupulous in Torah observance, must be extra careful with actions.
If a non-religious person learns from the actions of a religious Jew that it is not so bad to steal, to scream, to cheat, to lie, to throw rocks etc. then the sin is compounded from being a relatively simple one for which it is 'easy' to attain forgiveness from G-d to being elevated to a Chillul HaShem from which forgiveness and atonement is nearly impossible until one's death!
Yes, I know that religious people are not truly righteous, but the secular people do learn to justify devious behavior from them. This is extremely serious and must be avoided as in the example of Abaye who went out of his way when buying meat to pay each partner separately, then making an accounting with them and only afterwards taking his meat.
Religious people bare the extra burden by virtue of their distinguishing dress code to setting an exemplary example of how to behave. If they err, the sin is multiplied to the fourth level.
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