In Vayikra 22:32, Hashem presents the prohibition of chilul Hashem, desecrating His name: “You shall not desecrate My holy Name”. The verse concludes with the positive commandment of kiddush Hashem, to sanctify his name: “I should be sanctified among the children of Israel”. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) explains that there are circumstances where a person is obligated to give up his life rather than commit a transgression and desecrate His name. If someone is asked to commit one of the “big three” sins of murder, idolatry or adultery, he must sacrifice his life rather than commit the sin, whether in public or in private. This sacrifice sanctifies Him. If a person is forced to do any other sin of the Torah, he should commit the sin rather than give up his life, except in two cases. First, if ten Jews are present, he must give up his life rather than commit any sin, if he is being forced to sin only to desecrate the Torah. Secondly, during a government act of religious persecution, a person must give up his life to avoid violating even a religious custom, even in private.
Hopefully, most of us will never have to face such a life and death situation. How then does one fulfill the commandment of sanctifying Hashem’s name, and not desecrating It? The Rambam in Hilchot Yesodai Hatorah describes two ways we can fulfill the commandment in our daily lives.
Someone can sanctify Hashem’s name when faced with the choice of whether or not to commit a sin. If he refrains from committing the sin, not because of personal gain or peer pressure, but only out of his love for Hashem, his action sanctifies Hashem’s name. When a Jew acts for this reason, even in private, he fulfills the commandment of kiddush Hashem.
Secondly, when a person acts in such a manner that the people around him are impressed by him as a ben torah, he engages in an act of public kiddush Hashem. This is the type of conduct that we can all perform during our daily lives.