Parashat Emor: Sanctifying the Divine Name through Chocolate and Coffee By Rabbi Edward C. Bernstein Prepared for Fair Trade Shabbat, May 8-9, 2015

The latter half of the book of Leviticus consists mainly of what scholars call the Holiness Code because of the text's emphasis on holiness (kedushah) as the central goal of the people of Israel. Parashat Emor begins with rules for the Kohanim (priests) in order to preserve holiness. The text reads:

(ו) קְדֹשִׁ֤ים יִהְיוּ֙ לֵאלֹ֣קיהֶ֔ם וְלֹ֣א יְחַלְּל֔וּ שֵׁ֖ם אֱלֹקיהֶ֑ם כִּי֩ אֶת־אִשֵּׁ֨י ה' לֶ֧חֶם אֱלֹקיהֶ֛ם הֵ֥ם מַקְרִיבִ֖ם וְהָ֥יוּ קֹֽדֶשׁ׃

(6) They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God; for the offerings of the LORD made by fire, the bread of their God, they do offer; therefore they shall be holy.

While this verse in its context is discussing specific observances of the Kohanim, Maimonides applies it universally. He writes:

(א) כל בית ישראל מצווין על קדוש השם הגדול הזה שנאמר ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל ומוזהרין שלא לחללו שנאמר ולא תחללו את שם קדשי

All of the House of Israel is commanded concerning the sanctity of the Great Name...and are warned not to profane [God's name]...

In other words, there are two commandments in this verse: "sanctify God's name" and it's negative counterpart, "do not desecrate God's name."

(י) כל העובר מדעתו בלא אונס על אחת מכל מצות האמורות בתורה בשאט בנפש להכעיס הרי זה מחלל את השם

Anyone who consciously desecrates one of the commandments mentioned in the Torah in a derisive manner, desecrates God's name...

Maimonides elaborates on the distinction between hillul HaShem and kiddush HaShem.

Maimonides cites examples such as late payment for purchases, indulging in food, drink and luxuries in an immoderate way and otherwise rude behavior towards others. Such behaviors constitute hillul HaShem, because they cause the image of Judaism to be diminished in the eyes of others.

In contrast, the opposite person leads an upright, praiseworthy life.

הכל לפי גדלו של חכם צריך שידקדק על עצמו ויעשה לפנים משורת הדין.

The greater the scholar, the more s/he needs to be scrupulous and do more than what the strict letter of the law requires.

(יא) ויש דברים אחרים שהן בכלל חילול השם והוא שיעשה אותם אדם גדול בתורה ומפורסם בחסידות דברים שהבריות מרננים אחריו בשבילם ואף על פי שאינן עבירות הרי זה חילל את השם.

There are other deeds that fall under the category of hillul HaShem (desecration of God's name). When a great Torah scholar who is renowned for piety does things that promote people to discuss this scholar, even if the deeds are not express violations of law [the scholar] has committed hillul HaShem.

In other words, when one acts beyond basic communal expectations in a way that brings goodness into the world, that is kiddush HaShem, sanctification of God's name.

In our day, the Jewish community must bear witness to the deplorable use of slave labor in the production of the commodity sources of chocolate and coffee. Our society's craving for these products has driven the corporate manufacturers to source their products in the cheapest possible way in order to provide consumers with competitive pricing.

It is estimated that half the cocoa in the world is grown in the African nation Ivory Coast, and there is strong documentation of trafficked child labor in that region and in this industry. This practice violates international law as well as a compact signed by major chocolate manufactures not to source products from child labor or forced labor. Also of concern, in the coffee industry, there is evidence of child labor, unsafe working conditions and low wages. Despite increasing awareness, these practices continue unchecked. Manufacturers look askance when their suppliers use unfair and illegal labor practices. It is enough of a hillul HaShem that such practices occur at all in our age. It is even more of a hillul HaShem when we know what is happening and do nothing to stop it.

The Jewish community can and must respond to this injustice. Our tradition calls upon us to stamp out hillul HaShem with kiddush Hashem. We must speak out against corporations exploiting child labor to produce our food products, and we must raise awareness. At the same time, we should vote with our wallets.

This Shabbat (May 8-9, 2015) is Fair Trade Shabbat. Jewish communities across the country are not only studying and raising awareness of the problems, but they have also purchased the food served in their institutions from fair trade sources that do not permit child or forced labor in their production chain. Fair Trade Judaica has provided educational resources as well as resources for purchasing kosher fair trade chocolate and coffee and other products.

For those of us who enjoy chocolate and coffee, they are not staples in our diet. They are luxuries that bring us great pleasure. How much pleasure do you receive consuming these products when you know they were produced by the hands of slaves? Now, imagine that the farmers who picked the beans for your chocolate or coffee are adults supporting their families with a fair, living wage? How much better is it tasting now? Welcome to the taste of kiddush HaShem, sanctification of God's name.