The expression Or LaGoyim is thrown around a lot, but generally it means that we have a duty to be good ambassadors for G-d.

But what if we're tired, or we're in a hurry, or we're just not in an outgoing mood?

Do we have a right to just keep our heads down and keep to ourselves?

I'm specifically not asking about situations of danger to life or where one is being excessively harassed or insulted.  Just for no particular reason.  Someone needs a tire changed, or a stranger approaches you with a question about your Kippah.  Do we ever have a right, under normal circumstances, to decline to be an Or LaGoyim or attempt* a Kiddush HaShem?

*I say attempt a Kiddush HaShem for two reasons:  1) You never know if your actions will result in a Kiddush HaShem.  2) By declining, you may in fact be creating a Hillul HaShem, but you may never know if that is the case.


4 Answers 4


This article from Arachim discusses the concept of "אור לגויים" in our times.

The message of the article, in my words, is:

"The concept of "Light unto the nations" means that we should be a symbol and an example of spiritual elevation and elevated and refined human relationships.

We stand constantly in, so to speak, the shop window of the world, and we are examined with a magnifying glass. If we are worthy, we are a good example, and in our merit there should be a change for the better in the whole world."

From the expression and the reality that we are constantly being scrutinised, it seems that there is no time when we can decline to be an Or LaGoyim.

(BTW, the source for Kiddush Hashem is Vayikro 22 (32)

וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲנִי הֹ מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם:

“You shall not desecrate My Holy Name. I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the Lord Who sanctifies you,” which seems to specify amongst the children of Israel. I was taught that the main Kiddush Hashem is בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.)

  • Re: "... the main Kiddush Hashem is בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל": O.K., but before whose eyes? (Yechezkel 28:25, ibid. 39:27?)
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 19:08
  • @TamirEvan Super, I had not thought of these possukim. But they refer to a different time scale as they say: When I gather in the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they have been scattered, When I return them from the peoples and gather them from the lands of their enemies. Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 19:14
  • I realize that. That's why I asked, rather than stated. My main point was to show that, even though Qidush ha-Shem may be done exclusively within Israe, it doesn't mean it isn't done for the edification of others.
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 6:32
  • @TamirEvan Point taken. Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 19:17

I believe that you have unwittingly conflated two separate concepts here. Being an Or Lagoyim is a concept mention three times in Yeshayahu, as delineated and discussed in this excellent Wikipedia article. What seems to come together from those verses, as well as from the broad number of commentators on those sources (ranging from the Radak to Rav Kook, the Netziv to Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky) is that the concept of Or Lagoyim applies to the nation as a whole, and not specifically to any individual. We, as a nation following the moral precepts of the Torah, are to be a light unto the nations of the world, leading the way in devotion to morality. Being that it is something that functions on the national level, I don't believe that it would require you to necessarily feel responsible to defend or expound upon Judaism to any random inquirer. I would say though that it has everything to do with running your business according to halacha, which of course includes dina demalchusa, as a representative example of our national morality.

Kiddush Hashem on the other hand also would not require you to give a detailed response. The mitzva of kiddush hashem, again as per this wonderful Wiki article, has three main components:

  1. Giving up one's life not to violate the "big 3"
  2. Reciting certain parts of prayer with ten men
  3. Acting in a polite and honorable manner The part of the mitzva you seem to be referring to is this last one, and is discussed in the Rambam Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 5:11, based on Yome 86b, and states that a Torah Jew must act in a polite, genteel, cheerful, responsible manner with all those he comes in contact with. It would not seem though, that this would obligate you to take time out to answer someone's random inquiry about Judaism, not to change someone's tire if you are not able to just at that moment.

Once the Or Lagoyim issue no longer requires you to give a detailed response to the inquirer, I would say that the mitzva of Kiddush Hashem would just require you to dispatch them in a polite and respectful way.

  • Re: Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 5:11: The obligations mentioned here are for one who is a Chakham ("sage") and Gadol ba-Torah u-Mfursam ba-Chasidut ("of great Torah stature who is renowned for his piety"), and more in general, ha-Kol lefi Godlo shel Chakham (" [The extent to which] he must be careful with himself and go beyond the measure of the law [depends on the level of his Torah stature.]"). (All translations are from Eliyahu Touger's translation here.)
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 18:15
  • @TamirEvan, while you certainly are correct that only a Gadol ba-Torah etc. would be required to act that way, the lesson regarding kiddush hashem remains, that when one who is taken as a representative of the Torah acts in a polite manner it creates a kiddush hashem.
    – Jewels
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 4:58
  • Well, if one who is not a Gadol ba-Torah is not required, then that would mean that he could get away with not being "a good ambassador for G-d" when he is tired, in a hurry, etc., even in cases where a Gadol ba-Torah couldn't, without it beind in violation of Qidush ha-Shem.
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 6:47
  • 1
    @TamirEvan this is just my hunch, but my impression is that the reasoning behind a Talmid Chacham's actions generating a Kiddush Hashem/Chilul Hashem is that it is taken as representative of the Torah. This would seem to be corroborated by the source of the Rambam from Yoma 86b. Being that that is the case, the same would be true for any kippa wearer. But all this is only regarding acting politely, like a mensch, but does not require one to be an "ambassador" in the sense of needing to respond to the question
    – Jewels
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 11:32
  • (a) This just means you're extending the requirement to all Kippa wearers (in contrast to your earlier comment, where you agreed "that only a Gadol ba-Torah etc. would be required to act that way"). (b) Though I agree "that the reasoning behind a Talmid Chacham's actions generating a Kiddush Hashem/Chilul Hashem is that it is taken as representative of the Torah" I don't see how that extends to "any kippa wearer". How are they more obligated than other Jews?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 17:25

Or LaGoyim is indeed thrown around a lot. But I'm not sure where its source is. The question really should be, from where do we even know that we ever need to be a light unto the nations? Who says? It's a rather disputed idea, just how much we need to spread holiness.

Indeed, the question of chilul hashem is a seperate one. But that's a real Halacha. If you think it'll cause a desecration of God, you being tired doesn't matter. You wouldn't say "I'm tired so I guess no tefillen today"...

  • 1
    See Yeshaya 49:6 Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 3:09
  • 1
    @YEZ It should be noted, though, that the verse is directed specifically at that prophet, and not at Israel in general. (It seems the same with Isaiah 42:6, but there the wording of the verses is ambiguous enough to suggest it might be directed at Israel in general.)
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 19:05

NO! Based on the video, which I posted, we are supposed to be

אור לגויים

Check out this video, it gives many answers to the related topic, and as well to many unanswered questions.

R. Osher Baddiel, London: "Was machen wir hier?

  • 3
    It would help a lot, if, out of the 47.5 minute video, you would summarize: (a) Based on what does R. Osher Baddiel conclude that we are supposed to be Or la-Goyim? (b) How that obligates everyone of us to act, regardless of our situation at the time an opportunity presents itself, or our perceived religiousness in the eyes of others?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 18:43

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