As a child, I thought Kiddush Hashem meant clean up after myself at the park and giving an older woman my seat on the bus. It is surely that. But it is so much more.
It is sharing with mankind the core values of Judaism, the dignity of the religious lifestyle and the discipline of a higher calling. It is pushing back against the secularism that seeks to overtake America, the “progressive” forces that cloud the distinction between right and wrong and undermine the commitment to do anything about it.
The layperson would embody and promote this Jewish message to the world through everything he did: Choose the fine wine of Godliness over the sugared cereal of materialism, the pleasure of permanence over the desire of the moment. The world is ready to hear the message and we are the ones to share it.
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A few weeks ago I was at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport waiting on a TSA security line. It was early in the morning and the line, though long, was moving at a fair pace. I was positioned behind a Slavic man and his wife. Both were big and blond, and they seemed belligerent. I tried to make small talk and they turned away sharply. I wondered: What effect could my ancestors have had on Polish/Ukrainian culture in the 500 years they called that region home? Very little, I knew. All they could do was batten down their hatches and keep their values intact.
A bit further down the line of passengers was a middle-aged couple, seemingly middle-class, religious Texans. I asked myself: What can I do to weigh in on contemporary moral issues and be a source of Kiddush Hashem to them? Everything, I knew. They expected me, as an Orthodox Jew, to weigh in on the issues and they would listen carefully to my words.
Pursuing societal Kiddush Shem Shamayim would mean a communal focus that was less internal and more external. Instead of focusing, strictly, on the dangers of the Internet to our families we would also join traditional Americans trying to enact legislation to require public libraries to install content filters. We would use our connections to promote smut-free school zones throughout the state. We would use our influence to encourage chain stores to post stronger warning labels on violent video games. We would push back and reinforce the fringes of social decay. We would see it as our Jewish duty to protect not only the moral fabric of the Jewish community but also the moral foundation of America.
We are burdened by property taxes that pay for public education while also paying yeshiva tuitions. It seems unfair. We want tax credits, vouchers or, at least, state-funded busing and remedial services. Millions of traditional Americans are fighting the same battle. Kiddush Hashem would mean joining these groups on a more personal level – not asking a few askanim to represent us, but making it an issue of personal significance. We would weigh in on the issue and show society that the religious citizen is the model citizen and the moral heir of the American Founding Fathers. Pursuing Kiddush Hashem would mean bringing back aspects of the haredi community of the 1960s and 1970s: idealism and simplicity. We would see Kiddush Shem Shamayim in creating a society sustainable for many generations.
In the first half of the 20th century, Orthodox Judaism in America was weak. The first generation of bnei Torah built the infrastructure. The second generation built the beis medrash. The third generation can maintain the infrastructure, sustain the beis medrash, and pour thousands of reinforcements into the battle for the soul of America. This battle is not the battle of Eastern Europe, between Yaakov and Eisav. It is the battle between the followers of Avraham and the promoters of Sodom.
As frum Jews connected to the God of Avraham we have a moral duty to weigh in on this battle. For millennia, affecting the world around us was impossible. Survival as frum Jews was our sole aspiration. Today, a window has opened. We have the opportunity to stand up and be counted, to step forward and lead. We have the opportunity to sing a new song. We have the opportunity, indeed the blessing, to be the generation that sings to God a New Song, that sings to God throughout the Land (Psalm 96).
Yaakov Rosenblatt is the author of two books and a contributor to many Jewish and general publications. He “tends the flock,” literally and figuratively, as CEO of A.D. Rosenblatt Kosher Meats, LLC and a rabbi at NCSY – Southwest region.