Steadfast Sanctification

 Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Like much of the rest of Sefer VayikraParshat Emor contains many commandments concerning the sacrifices. Towards the end of one of these passages, almost as an afterthought, Hashem commands, “You shall observe My commandments and perform them; I am Hashem. Lo techalillu et Shem kodshi/You shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather venikdashti/I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel; I am Hashem Who sanctified you, Who took you our of the land of Egypt to be a God unto you; I am Hashem.” This is the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem and the prohibition of chillul Hashem.

We can make several observations and raise some questions. We will notice that Bnei Yisroel’s sanctifying God’s name is linked both to Hashem’s sanctifying Bnei Yisroel and to Hashem’s taking us out of Egypt. We will also note that Hashem makes a point here of verbalizing the opposite, the prohibition of desecrating His name, as a full command, “You shall not desecrate My holy Name.” Finally, instructions and commandments are generally transmitted in the active voice, i. e., “You will do the following…; you shall not...” Why does Hashem here use the passive voice, “I should be sanctified.”

We begin our discussion with the Tolna Rebbe. He cites Rabbi Elazar Azkari who differentiates between two classes of mitzvoth, the occasional mitzvoth and the constant mitzvoth. Sanctifying God’s name, usually associated with dying al kiddush Hashem/for the sanctification of God’s name, is nevertheless considered a constant mitzvah. As such, dying to sanctify God’s name is a rare mitzvah rather than a common mitzvah. How can we resolve this seeming contradiction?

To appreciate the mitzvah of sanctifying God’s name, one must understand that sanctification can occur on two levels. While offering one’s life to sanctify His Name is the highest level, the Rambam teaches that publicizing Hashem’s name in a positive way is also a sanctification of His Name. All Jews are commanded not to desecrate His Name, but few are called upon to die to sanctify His Name. However, we can perform this mitzvah as a constant mitzvah by acting as proud Jews who serve Hashem. While dying al kiddush Hashem is one level of the mitzvah, living in ways that sanctify God’s name is another level of the mitzvah, writes Rav Reiss in Meirosh Tzurim.

The mitzvah can be clarified by citing the verse from Shema, “Ve’ahavta…/And you will love Hashem with all your hearts, with all your soul...” Yes, if your very life, your soul, is demanded to demonstrate your love for Hashem, you are required to give it willingly, explains Rashi, and that will be one time and final. That is one of the reasons it is linked to the exodus. When the plague of frogs came upon Egypt, the Torah testifies that the frogs were all over, even in the ovens of the Egyptians. Would not the heat of the ovens have stopped the frogs from jumping in? However, our tradition tells us that the frogs entered the ovens willingly to do Hashem’s will, even though they would die. It is this example that Chananya, Mishoel and Azariah cited when they entered Nebuchadnezzar oven, ready to die rather than worship the idol Nebuchadnezzar had erected. It was their salvation that sanctified God’s name among the multitudes.

We were redeemed from Egypt to become Hashem’s servants. A good servant does all that his master requests of him. Therefore, we hear the stories that when our people were called upon to fulfill this mitzvah, they did it with the joy of having this unusual opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah., whether it was dying with a smile on a great Tana’s lips during the Roman Empire or marching toward the Nazi ovens singing Ani Ma’amin.

But, continues Rabbi Reiss, just as every mitzvah requires some preparation, whether physical or mental, so does the mitzvah of being able to give one’s life al kiddush Hashem. This preparation takes place throughout one’s life and as such constitutes the continuous mitzvah even if you are never faced with that cruel, final choice. Therefore, we can say in our prayers, “Ki olecha huragnu kol hayom/For Your sake we were killed every day.” The struggles of our daily lives are in preparation for that possible final challenge.

Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk suggests a novel way of fulfilling this mitzvah. When you are unable to sleep, or bored, or idle, imagine a fire burning in front of you, rising to the heavens, and imagine yourself jumping into that fire to sanctify His Name. Even though this is just imagination, Hashem counts it as the actual deed of sanctifying His Name.

One who is willing to die al kiddush Hashem is not depressed and disillusioned with life. Rather he knows the value of every moment of life, but sanctifying God’s Name has an even higher value, explains Rabbi Birnbaum in Bekorai Shemo. The Torah continues with, “I am Hashem Who sanctified you.” Those who give their lives for a higher purpose are themselves sanctified. Those who lost their lives for the value of saving others, whether in the army, in terrorist attacks, or in disasters such as fires or floods, are considered our heroes. We must strive for the higher value.

The story is told of the Steipler Gaon when he was in the Russian Army. One Shabbat, his commander ordered him to practice target shooting or be killed. While this would be a Shabbat desecration, it was not one of the three cardinal sins for which one must offer his life rather than transgress. Nevertheless, the Gaon wanted to minimize the desecration. He would shoot, but he would change his usual form, an accommodation the halachah allows when faced with an emergency Shabbat desecration.  Perhaps the Gaon used his non dominant hand. Normally, this change would necessitate many more shots to reach acceptable levels of expertise. But Hashem, rewarding the Steipler’s dedication to Shabbat, arranged for his shot to hit the bull’s eye on the very first attempt. The commander, recognizing this Jew’s holiness in this miraculous result, relieved him of further Shabbat exercises.

The real will of God, writes Rabbi Bick z”l among others, is not that we die to sanctify His name, but that we live in a way that will sanctify His name by observing His mitzvoth. That is what is meant when we precede each mitzvah with the blessing of “...Asher kidishanu bimitzvotov/Who has sanctified us with His mitzvoth.”

 These are the two “holy mountains” that form the bedrock of Judaism, as alluded to in in Psalm 87, writers Rabbi Scheinerman, the “mountain” of living to sanctify His name [Har Sinai] and the “mountain to die, [Har Hamoriah] if necessary”, to sanctify His name. There is no middle ground, writes Rabbi Druck z”l, for between the two mountains lies only emptiness/challal, a desecration of His Name.

We create the mountains of sanctity by elevating the world and everything in it, building from one level to the next, explains the Sifsei Chaim, Rabbi Friedlander z”l. This refers not only to the outer world, but to my inner world as well. Perhaps, conjectures Rabbi Friedlander z”l, this is the reason we rise up during Kedushah each time we say,”Kaddosh, kaddosh, kaddosh/Holy, holy holy.”

But we can elevate ourselves not just by doing the mitzvoth, but also by taking my personal desires and passions and subsuming them to God’s will. This is what is alluded to in Shema when we recite to “love Hashem with all your hearts….” Grammatically, the plural “hearts” is correct, for we are are told that when we give up our cravings or improper desires for the higher values of God’s will, we are training ourselves to love God with our soul very soul, should it become necessary. It’s all about living our lives and building the mountain rather than in the challal/emptiness of transient, physical desires. My conversation, my actions, even my imagination has the ability to sanctify God’s name. We can re-frame everything we do, especially when we need to fight lethargy or inertia, as an opportunity to subsume my will into His will. It is in these small, hidden acts and in refraining from action even more than in the overt or public actions that His name is sanctified, passively even more than actively.

It is the superiority of living by God’s will over dying for God’s sanctity that explains why the binding of Isaac is attributed more as a merit to Avraham Avinu than to Yitzchak Avinu, writes the Tolna Rebbe in Heimah Yenachanuni. While allowing himself to be bound as a sacrifice was undoubtedly challenging and a great merit to Yitzchak, had he indeed been slaughtered his test would have been over. For Avraham Avinu, however, the consequences of that sacrifice would have remained part of his life forever.

Rabbi Weinberger z”l considers the context and placement of this passage regarding kiddush Hashemand chillul Hashem as an important point to contemplate. In Shemen Hatov, Rabbi Weinberg notes that this passage is nestled between three other elements of sanctity. Preceding this passage, the Torah instructs us concerning the sanctity of the priests. Following this passage, we are instructed concerning the sanctity of the holidays. This is then followed by the laws regarding the menorah. Here we have allusions to all three realms of existence. The kohanim/priests represent the sanctity of nefesh/spirit; the holidays represent the sanctity of shanah/year/time; finally, the menorah represents the sanctity of olam/space. An acronym of the three would create oshon/smoke that rises heavenward.

According to Rabbi Feinstein zt” l, citing examples from the Gemarrah, whenever someone acts below his ability, whether in Torah study or in giving tzedakah for example, he has left achillul/emptiness that is a profanation of Hashem’s name. Because this is a constant mitzvah, one we do all our lives, writes the Rambam, it is a foundation of the Torah.

It is in this vein that Rabbi Hillel in Ascending the Path [an adaptation of Mesillat Yeshorim] cites Pirkei Avoth – Lefum tza’ara agra/according to the challenge and difficulty is the reward. Hashem does not judge us by measuring us against the accomplishments of others. Each of us has limitations as well as talents and assets. We are judged by how much we can actualize our personal potential and how we can overcome our personal challenges. It is the struggle that creates the holiness.

The Netivot Shalom, quotes the Chozeh of Lublin, after the angel stopped Avraham Avinu from slaughtering Yitzchak on the altar, Avraham lifted his eyes and saw an ayil acher/different ram caught in the thicket with his horns/karnov. Citing the Chozeh of Lublin, the Netivot Shalom, then interprets this verse homiletically. There are indeed two kinds of sacrifices. One is outside oneself, putting a ram on the altar. But the other, the acher, is the internal struggle, in the thicket of one’s “kishkes”. But when one succeeds in overcoming this struggle, he emerges bekarnov/with rays of light and holiness. It is in overcoming both these struggles, the inner enemy even more perhaps than the outer enemy, that Hashem has been sanctified.

It is these private struggles, perhaps best exemplified by Yaakov Avinu’s struggle with the angel, that defines who we are as Bnei Yisroel with the mission to sanctify God’s name, writes Rabbi Frand. Yaakov Avinu fought with the man/angel, but the only witness was God. It is those things that we do privately, that only God Himself is aware of, that are the true sanctification of God’s Name, writesChochmat Hamatzpun. Only Hashem is aware of how many times I refrained from joining in speaking loshon horo, or restrained my temper, how many times I helped a friend without his knowing or when I was beyond tired.

What defines a Jew, writes Rabbi Spero in The Spark Within, quoting the Imrei Emes is not his successes, but his struggles and his challenges, his ability to fall, and get up to continue the struggle. Hashem believes in you, and gives you the struggle knowing you can succeed, albeit it will be difficult. It is through the struggles that Hashem’s name gets sanctifies, and it is through the struggle that we elevate ourselves and the entire world.  It is therefore the reason we are called Yisrael [Ki Sarita], after the struggle, and not given the name based on being victorious.