In Parshas Naso, Bamidbar 6:27, in Birkas Kohanim, where it says "וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם," the Baal Haturim also mentions this incongruous gematria, and says a different pshat. He says that it teaches us to greet every man civilly and with a friendly mien, even one such as Eisav.
I found this particularly relevant in light of a recent and recurring event in Yerushalayim, in which some young men from the Jewish community expressed their disdain of certain non-Jewish religious figures in a base and crude fashion. Ok, this I understand. The Biryonim and Sikariim that plagued us two thousand years ago had children and grandchildren who carry forward their ugly and self-destructive mesora. What bothered me was the statement by an American that this behavior is true Kiddush Hashem, that it unambiguously and bravely expresses our repugnance for beliefs that are antithetical to ours. (See end of the post for a summary of the conversation.) I assumed that for an non-insular American-raised individual to make such an assertion was surely intended for effect, and he wasn't being serious. I was wrong. So if you're not sure who's right in this matter, at least I have the Baal Haturim in my corner. Unless, of course, he's talking about a Ger Toshav, not an Oveid Avodas Kochavim.
But I am reminded of a story involving Harav Reuven Feinstein. For years, as Reb Reuven walked to MTJ Shabbos morning, he would pass a distinguished looking bearded gentleman wearing black, and every Shabbos morning he would greet him with a Good Shabbos. One Shabbos, Rebbitzen Feinstein happened to be walking with Reb Reuven to MTJ, and after he greeted this man, she whispered to him "Reuven! Why did you say good Shabbos to that man?" He answered, "why shouldn't I say good Shabbos to him? I've been saying good Shabbos to him for years." The Rebbitzen said "Do you think he's a Chosid? He's not even Jewish! That's the priest from the Greek Orthodox church!" Reb Reuven said, "Okay, so what's wrong with saying good Shabbos to a Greek Orthodox priest? I say good Shabbos to him, he says good Shabbos to me, and everybody's happy." and he continued to do so each time they met.
Several years later, there was a project the Jewish community wanted done, which ran into opposition from various groups. At a community hearing, that same Greek Orthodox priest was called upon to state his opinion. He said he saw nothing wrong with approving the project. In his experience, he said, the Jewish people on the lower east side were friendly and warm, and if this would strengthen their community, then he was for it.
I am not saying that one ought to be civil because of pragmatic שלח לחמך על פני המים self interest (קהלת רבה יא). I am saying that with our behavior we either contribute to a civil society or we create the opposite. We engineer our environment, and we can pollute it with all kinds of effluvia or we can make it beautiful. I think that there might be a kosher alternative to that fellow's take on the mitzva of Kiddush Hashem.
Summary of the conversation I referred to:
"…they [the holy expectorants] are the very definition of Kiddush Hashem. It's sad that the concept of kiddush and chilul haShem have become so confused nowadays that this question could even be asked. Kiddush Hashem does not mean making nice to the goyim. The Torah tells us explicitly what it means -- raising Hashem's Name and demeaning that of His "rivals" (kiveyachol). We're not told simply to not defile Hashem's altars, etc. Rather we're first told to do so to avoda zara, only then are we told not to do the same to Hashem. Treating "all religions" with respect is by definition chilul haShem, while spitting at avoda zara, and even at its mention, is an ancient minhag Yisrael. The gemara (Megilla 25b) even says that "all mockery is forbidden except that of avoda zara", and proceeds to give some examples of what strikes me as rather puerile humour at the expense of avoda zara. The whole point of Kiddush Hashem is the rejection of relativism; it's a statement that we are not the same.
The difference between us and them is not in any objective measure, but simply that we are right and they are wrong.Not that we believe we are right, but that we are right.Of course they believe that they're right; but they're wrong in that belief. That is what Kiddush Hashem is all about, and the moment you go looking for an objective standard by which to judge both of us equally, a standard that doesn't incorporate the truth of our belief and the falsehood of theirs, then you are being mechalel haShem.
As for worrying about the consequences, that too is the opposite of Kiddush Hashem. Kiddush Hashem by its nature engenders hostility among the idolaters."
[Someone sarcastically responded to the writer that “I am sure that when the media runs such stories the initial reaction of the masses is to say "More glory to Hashem and his Torah"! The writer answered] "They don't say that when they hear that we refuse to marry them either. If you want their approval then that's the first thing you should drop, because from their point of view that is the most bigoted and fanatical thing about us. Kiddush Hashem means making the world aware that we reject them and their ways. Pretending that we don't is chilul Hashem."
In response to comments that were sent in, below, I want to add two points. Eretz Yisrael is surrounded by deadly enemies. Are we going to decide, at this point, that Yoshiyahu (Taanis 22b) was right? Or do we make concessions to reality and attempt, uncharacteristically, to behave with good manners? I understand that in Yerushalayim many people develop severe myopia and see only their rebbes and their neighborhood. But we ought to know better.
Also: that even those that objurgate this kind of behavior should balance their disgust with a thought of the history of the relationship of this particular branch of the church with the Jews and the Jewish state. I admit, though, that the malefactors we're discussing are probably not standing up to defend the Jewish state.
DGS sent me a shiur from Reb Aharon Soloveichik on the topic of Kiddush Hashem and Chillul Hashem. It definitely belongs here, and it definitely should not be translated.
The other way to read the Baal Haturim's observation of the Gematria of Eisav is in the words Tacitus puts into the mouth of a Briton facing the Roman army:
Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
They rob, they kill, they plunder, all under the lying name of Roman Empire. They make a desert and call it peace.
I recently saw an article by Louis Menand about George Kennan, who did not at all believe in "morality-based" foreign policy. The article ends by explaining that Kennan's apparent heartlessness was a necessary result of his realism: as he puts it, "professions of benevolence might be masks for self-interest."
Or, as he quotes from James Adams,
“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws."
One might say the same about the Roman claims to be bringing civilization to the barbarians. One might also say so about certain wealthy philanthropists.