The concept of “Chilul Hashem,” desecration of God’s name, is first mentioned in the Torah in Leviticus (22:32), when the Jewish people are commanded: “You shall not shame My Holy Name; and I will be sanctified amongst the people of Israel, I am God.”
Based on the grammatical structure of this sentence, it seems quite obvious that the only way not to shame God’s name is to sanctify God among the people of Israel. These words are much akin to a mother saying: “Don’t do anything to embarrass the family.” Which, of course, really means, “Go out and make us proud, honey.”
This commandment reminds us that all of our actions are a reflection not just on ourselves, but on the Jewish People and, most importantly, on God.
Technically, the term Chilul Hashem refers to an act that is deliberately and willfully committed against the Torah. And a true Chilul Hashem is one in which an unseemly action takes place in front of other Jews (a quorum of 10).
However, colloquially, the term Chilul Hashem refers to all inappropriate actions that make Jews in general, and therefore God, look bad. When the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, they, in effect, accepted “ethical monotheism”–a full understanding that there were rules by which they would lead their lives.
Examples of Chilul Hashem can be as obvious as a Jew committing a crime, to the far more subtle acts of bad public manners, such as when a Jew cuts in front of another person in line or is rude to a store clerk. Alas, the Jewish Nation is made up of people, and people are, above all else, fallible. Therefore, living our lives to sanctify God’s name is a goal toward which each of us must strive, even if not all of us achieve it.