Kiddush HaShem—Sanctifying G-d’s Name…
It isn’t only for the extremely pious anymore.
That’s right! Now you don’t even need a long white beard and radiant countenance to perform deeds which sanctify the Name of G-d, drawing attention to the Divine Presence in this world. One does not require the wizened features of a Bubby, effortlessly uttering insightful Yiddish proverbs, to assist people in recognizing that human beings are created in G-d’s Image.
We are living in times of equal opportunity. Anyone can sanctify G-d’s Name these days.
First, we have to figure out exactly what a Kiddush HaShem is. ‘Sanctifying G-d’s Name’ has a beautiful sound to it, but what do those words mean?
We read in our parsha, “You shall not profane My holy Name, and you shall sanctify Me among the children of Israel...” (Leviticus 22:32). Maybe it’s not totally clear what the words, “sanctify Me among the children of Israel,” mean on first reading; but whatever they mean, they seem to be the opposite of “profane My holy Name”. Maybe we can work backwards to figure this out.
The Hebrew word we translate as “profane” is “chillul”. “Chillul” literally means: “to create a vacuum”. Someone who commits a Chillul HaShem, profaning G-d’s Name, is creating a vacuum in the world in which it appears that G-d does not exist. When someone commits an offense against G-d which is so blatant that it causes those who witness it to question whether there could really be a G-d Who would let someone get away with this—this is a Chillul HaShem. A Chillul HaShem makes G-d’s Presence seem less real in the world.
So what is a Kiddush Hashem then? It seems that sanctifying G-d’s Name entails acting in a way which is so selfless that it causes those who witness it to become more convinced that there must really be a G-d in this world, because no one would act this way if he or she was just descended from a monkey. An act of Kiddush HaShem makes G-d’s Presence seem more real and immediate in this world.
The ultimate act of Kiddush HaShem entails the surrendering of one’s life to remain loyal to G-d and His commandments. But this is not a level that most people can connect to every day. So what is our connection to Kiddush HaShem?
Every Jew can have an intimate connection to Kiddush HaShem. Each one of us is born with a unique potential to sanctify G-d’s Name in our own way. This is to say that each of us has a unique ability to make positive choices in our lives, which demonstrate that we’re not just going with the flow, following our instincts. By making the right moral choices, even when they’re difficult, we demonstrate that we are driven by a higher principle than our own self-interest. By choosing paths that emphasize our Divine nature, we sanctify the Name of G-d.
The Talmud (Tractate Yoma 86a) gives an example of Kiddush HaShem. If a persons who learns Torah and is connected to Torah sages is careful to always speak gently with others and to deal in an upright and faithful manner in business, people will remark: “Praiseworthy is the person who studies Torah. Praiseworthy is his father who taught him Torah. Praiseworthy is his Rebbe who taught him Torah…” This is how things are supposed to look in a world created by G-d.
The Talmud (Yerushalmi Bava Metzia 2:5) records another famous Kiddush Hashem involving Rav Shimon ben Shetach. Rav Shimon ben Shetach’s students bought a donkey for their teacher from an Arab. They found that a precious stone had somehow become attached to the donkey without the seller’s knowledge. Rav Shimon ordered them to return the precious stone to the Arab. When questioned why it was necessary to return the stone (even though it was not required by law in this case), Rav Shimon replied that his goal in this world was not amassing wealth. “Shimon ben Shetach desires hearing (a non-Jew utter) ‘Blessed is the G-d of the Jews!’ more than all the wealth in the world.”
The truth is, G-d places every person in a unique life circumstance so that each of us will have a unique potential to sanctify G-d’s Name in a way that no one else can. This unique potential to sanctify G-d’s Name is our personal Divine mission in this world. (See Michtav M’Eliyahu II, p. 255-6.)
G-d gives some people great wealth to see if they will behave like the wealthy, becoming absorbed in their own possessions, or whether they will sanctify G-d’s Name by taking upon themselves the responsibility of ensuring the financial needs of the community. G-d places others in very difficult personal relationships, be it with parents or bosses or children, to see if they will make a Kiddush HaShem by rising above the fray of emotional disputes and being the one not to answer back, the one to pursue peace. Each of us has our challenges, and most of us have quite a few of them. These challenges are our opportunities for sanctifying the Name of G-d.
After all this talk about sanctifying G-d’s Name before the eyes of the world, we must not lose sight of the most important focus of Kiddush HaShem. The most important Kiddush HaShem we can make is the one we make to ourselves. We need to bring G-d into the hollow of our own lives and feel His Presence as something real to us (see Michtav M’Eliyahu III, p. 117-8). From this private Kiddush HaShem, sanctifying G-d’s Name in public flows naturally. And it should, because Kiddush HaShem is what G-d put us in this world to accomplish. It’s a challenging mission, but we’re a capable people.
to Gili Wojnowich on your Bar Mitzvah this Shabbos!
Mazal Tov to your proud parents,
Leonard and Shifi, to your grandparents and to your entire family!
may you fulfill all the promise that your family and friends see in you and
that your Creator has endowed in you as you continue growing as a Jewish
adult in Torah, Mitzvahs and Good Deeds.
Torah, Mitzvahs and Good Deeds.
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