We all want to be it and to make it. I refer to the great and exalted mitzvah of kiddush Hashem (sanctifying God’s name) [Vayikra, 22:23]
You shall not profane My holy Name; but I shall be sanctified amongst Bnei Yisroel. I am Ad-noy Who makes you holy.
Rashi, based on a famous Talmud piece [Sanhedrin 74] frames the concept in terms of life and death:
And I will be sanctified”? Surrender yourself [to martyrdom] and sanctify My Name! Perhaps [this command applies even when] he is alone? The verse says: Among Bnei Yisroel.
It is a mitzvah with tragic relevance. Rashi is terse. The Talmud distinguishes between the big three and the rest:
R. Yochanan said…if a man is commanded: ‘Transgress and do not die’ he may transgress and not suffer death, excepting idolatry, incest/adultery and murder… For it has been taught, R. Eliezer said: And thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, … When Rabin came, he said in R. Yochanan’s name: .. it was only permitted [to transgress] in private; but in public one must be martyred even for a minor precept rather than violate it. .. It is obvious that Jews are required [for this publicity], for it is written. But I shall be sanctified amongst the children of Israel.
For the big three, one must always give up one’s life; for the other negative prohibitions, only public violation requires martyrdom. We shall yet explain the nature of this distinction.
A wrenching and tragic historically relevant question: and what of the children? Must the parents bring the children to that place of Kiddush Hashem1? A famous piece of Rambam is often cited as proof positive.
Kol Beis Yisrael – The whole house of Israel is commanded to sanctify God’s Name, for it is written, “…but I will be hallowed amongst Bnei Yisrael the children of Israel”. We are warned not to desecrate God’s Name, .. What does this mean? If, for example, a gentile forces a Jew to commit a sin by threatening to kill him if he doesn’t, then he should commit the sin in order not to be killed, for concerning this commandment it is written, “…which if a man does he shall live by them” – and not die for them. If he allowed himself to be killed by not committing the sin, then he is liable as a suicide [in the World To Come].
Kol Beis Yisrael appears but twice in Rambam’s Mishna Torah formulation. In astounding synchronicity, Rav Yisroel Meir Lau [son] and Rav Moshe Lau [father] both independently suggest that Rambam’s singular use of this term must be a veiled reference to a classical verse in Psalms:2,3
Yevareich es Beis Yisrael … haketanim im hagedolim – let him bless the house of Israel, the minors with the gedolim [Tehillim, 115:12]
Kiddush Hashem though is not only in death. It possesses 2nd most critical sub-division. Again a key Rambam:
Similarly, if a wise person is particular to receive people in a reposed manner, and receives them with a pleasant expression on his face, and does not hide from them, then even those people who [had previously] mocked him will now respect and honor him, and will trust him. .. always acting beyond the letter of the law, which involves not being too withdrawn or bewildered. .. everyone will adore and love him, and follow his example. This is a sanctification of God’s Name, and concerning this it is written, “…and said to me, `You are My servant, Israel, amongst whom I will be glorified”.
Any public moment may yield a potential Kiddush Hashem. In the mundane and holy, when a Jew acts as a shining and appropriate ambassador for the Divine, a Kiddush Hashem has been wrought. Of course, our opening verse v’nikdashti b’toch bnei Yisrael, implies the public arena. It is not by chance that this source also serves as a one for the halachic notion of minyan – for minyan is the public verbal expression of Kiddush Hashem
Kiddush Hashem: in life and transcending life! One final question and a stunning insight by the Ran will help strengthen the bonds between these 2 notions.
Is a Gentile obligated to sacrifice his life rather than violate his mitzvot?
Admittedly, it is mostly a theoretical question, for who is really asking – but our generation as well as generations past, has been privileged to see righteous Noachides who pine for the proper.
First, the Talmud [Sanhedrin 74b-75a] proves that a Gentile need not give up his life for anything – even for idolatry:
[Na’aman the Noachide said to Elisha]: In this thing, the Lord pardon his servant, that when my master goes into the Rimmon house to worship [idolatry] there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon. And he said unto him, Go in peace. Now, if it be so [that a Noachide is bidden to sanctify the Divine Name], he should not have said this?
The Talmud counters: perhaps the Gentile is obligated in kiddush Hashem – but only in public . A private Gentile heresy would be permitted to save his life.
Ran is astonished: Did we not learn that when dealing with the big three, one does not distinguish between public and private? Herein Ran’s remarkable answer
For the Jew, the obligation is to love God: V’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha .. bechol nafshecha. For the Gentile the obligation is to sanctify Hashem’s name [in public – “amidst Bnei Yisrael”]. That latter verse explicates public sanctification, and by implication exempts a private one. Since the Jew is also obligated in the 1st verse [loving God] there is no difference between the public and private.
In Ran’s comments, we find the great raison d’etre of the Jew. Our obligation and goal is not only to sanctify Hashem’s name, but to love Him. Is it not fascinating that the 1st mitzvah that appears on the radar of a bar/bas mitzvah boy is the Shema? The 1st Mishna /Talmud focuses on that mitzvah as well.
Love is a private thing. Its most sincere and significant manifestation found away from the camera in the intimate moments of life. The beloved feels such when the lover loves for no other reason. It is that higher form of kiddush Hashem, that sense of closeness and intimacy which the Jew craves. Somehow we must transmit that passion to the next generation.
In life and in death, public and private, our nation has lived with and for kiddush/ahavas Hashem. May the holy souls of all who have demonstrated this exalted ideal in life and beyond pray for us to escort mashiach tzidkeinu b’meheira b’yameinu amein v’amein.
1 Daas Zekeinim [Bereishis, 9:5] records a fundamental dispute regarding the potential permissibility of even taking the lives of one children for them to avoid the possibility of conversions.Indeed, this behavior is regarded in many sources of Chochmei Ashkenaz. See Darchei Teshuva Yoreh Deah 157 for an in depth analysis of this issue
2 Rav Lau [former Chief Rabbi of Israel, 37th in a chain of Rabbis] , whose analysis yielded that conclusion in Rambam relates in his remarkable biography Al Tishlach Yadecha El Haar that his father, Rav Moshe Lau (last rabbi of Pietrekov) had penned a prescient work Kiddush Hashem analyzing the depth and breadth of the mitzvah. Alas , the book was lost in the flames of the Holocaust! Years later, the Tchebiner Rav met Rav Lau in Eretz Yisrael, who presented the latter with a special present – a lone page from the sefer that his father had sent to the Rav in order to secure an approbation [who had money to reprint the whole book?]. In this, the only remaining page of the book lay that very same analysis of Rambam that Rav Lau himself had independently formulated in the Rambam light of the peculiar phrase Beis Yisrael.
3 Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky further finds in the passive wording v’nikdashti (“and you shall be sanctified”) [as opposed to the active takdishu] the notion that the goal is for God’s name to be sanctified more than an individual simply doing an act of Kiddush Hashem. Thus the parents through the children, fulfill the overarching mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.