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September 3, 2015 / 19 Elul, 5775
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Parashat Emor

Jewish men studying at a yeshiva

Jewish men studying at a yeshiva
Photo Credit: Yaakov Nahomie/Flash90

But when Israel returned to sovereignty over our borders and triumphed in a series of victories against impossible odds, the Name of God was sanctified and the entire world was blessed with the opportunity to ascend new heights of spiritual awareness. Israel’s return home and our miraculous military achievements are perhaps the highest verifications of HaShem’s existence and strength. Through performing the greatest sanctification of His Name in modern history, Israel essentially proved the Torah’s validity while simultaneously disproving the man-made religions that had for centuries claimed the Jews had lost God’s favor. And the redemption is now unfolding in our generation, not because Jews are righteous or deserving of salvation, but simply because history has had enough of God’s Name being defiled.

“Therefore say to the House of Israel: `Thus says my Lord HaShem/ELOKIM: Not for your sake do I act, O House of Israel, but for My holy Name that you have desecrated among the nations to which you came. And I will sanctify My great Name that was desecrated among the nations, that you desecrated among them. The nations shall know that I am HaShem – the words of my Lord HaShem/ELOKIM – when I become sanctified through you in their sight; and I shall take you from the nations and gather you in from the countries, and I shall bring you to your land; and I shall sprinkle pure water upon you, that you be cleansed.” (YEHEZKEL 36:22-25)

Whether on a personal level or on a national level, the mitzvah of Kiddush HaShem is identified as the general commandment to give one’s life in order to sanctify the Name of God or to avoid its desecration. Based on the verse “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live – I am HaShem” (VAYIKRA 18:5), the Sages conclude that Jews are generally meant to live – rather than die – by the Torah. The Talmud therefore instructs us to transgress most Torah Laws for the sake of preserving Hebrew life. This, however, excludes Divine commandments against murder, idol worship or sexual immorality – dire transgressions for which we are commanded to give up our lives rather than sin. In addition to these three severe prohibitions, we are also required to lay down our lives in a public situation for which the honor of HaShem’s Ideal is at stake (the Rambam explains this concept at great length in the fifth chapter of Yesodei HaTorah). In fact, a profanation of God’s Name is the only situation the Torah views as being graver than murder, idol worship or sexual immorality.

In the era of Israel’s national rebirth, it becomes crucial that our teachers shed light on Torah concepts that apply to the Jewish people as a collective. Among the other vital understandings of our generation, a proper emphasis must be placed on the national principle of Kiddush HaShem. For Israel to rise up and successfully face the many arduous challenges ahead, Torah leaders must illuminate the full depth of these ideals and inspire the nation towards the revelation of God’s Oneness to all of Creation.

About the Author: Yehuda HaKohen teaches history at several Jerusalem institutions and is a seasoned activist for indigenous rights in the Middle East and a vocal opponent of attempts to shrink Israel's borders. Yehuda organizes grassroots Jewish-Arab dialogue meetings for the purpose of fostering mutual acceptance and understanding.


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