Rav Elyashiv Said That This is Our Generation’s Most Important Mitzvah…
When we think about Kiddush Hashem, we tend to think of martyrdom. Tragically, Jews throughout our history have been forced to give up their lives and have died al Kiddush Hashem. But the simple meaning of the pasuk regarding Kiddush Hashem in our parsha does not describe how to die as a Jew, but rather directs us how to live as one.
The Rambam includes the mitzvah of making a Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name, in Hichos Yesodei HaTorah, whose early chapters deal with emunah, faith and yiras Hashem, fear of Heaven. He writes: “kol beis yisroel metzuvin al kidush Hashem ha’gadol ha’zeh. All of the Jewish people are commanded to sanctify God’s great name.”
Why does the Rambam say “metzuvin” regarding Kiddush Hashem, a word he doesn’t use to introduce other mitzvos? Aren’t we metzuvin, obligated, in all mitzvos? Moreover, why does he include this mitzvah among the foundational principles of the Torah such as belief in God and the divinity of the Torah?
The Slonimer Rebbe explains that Kiddush Hashem is not just another mitzvah. It is essential to who we are and how we see ourselves. Being a living, breathing, walking Kiddush Hashem is fundamental to our mission, foundational to our identity and an axiom of our faith. One can never put a check next to Kiddush Hashem as if they have fulfilled the mitzvah and are done. How I talk, eat, walk, relate, do business, what I watch, say, where I go, all are platforms and opportunities for Kiddush Hashem.
The Slonimer Rebbe notes that the Rambam emphasizes kol beis yisroel metzuvin, this command is not for the holy, the righteous or those that give up their lives. It is on kol beis yisroel, every Jew. It is not just a mitzvah, but our mission statement. It is our calling. It is why we exist.
Each decision, spoken word and action must be preceded with the question – what impression am I about to make? Will I reflect positively on the Jewish people and on the Almighty or will I leave a negative impression? Will God be proud and feel I have advanced His cause, or will I set back the mission for which I have been chosen?
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l once commented that every generation possesses a mitzvah that is especially significant for its time. Previous generations were challenged with the mitzvah of dying al Kiddush Hashem. Rav Elyashiv believed the mitzvah for our day is to “let the Name of Heaven become beloved through you,” to live al Kiddush Hashem.
The form of the verb the Torah uses when instructing us to sanctify Hashem’s name is instructive. The passuk doesn’t say kiddashti, sanctify Hashem’s name, but it says v’nikdashti, in the nif’al, the simple, passive form of the verb. Rav Nissan Alpert, a student of Rav Moshe Feinstein and a Rosh Yeshiva of YU, explains that the Torah specifically uses this form of the verb to communicate the essence of Kiddush Hashem and to capture what should be the mission of every person. Had the Torah said to actively sanctify God’s name, I would have thought one must seek out major, public opportunities with fanfare, pomp and circumstance. Instead, the Torah uses the simple passive nif’al, v’nikdashti to remind us that most Kiddush Hashem opportunities are not on a grand scale, they are not premeditated and they don’t require us to give our lives. The essence of sanctifying Hashem’s name is contained in the small, every day, mundane and casual aspects of life.
A high school principal shared that a student once exclaimed, “I wish I would have been alive during the Holocaust – I could have been a hero and someone would have written a book about me.” We need to teach our children that to be a Jewish hero you don’t need to sacrifice your life and die to sanctify Hashem’s name, you need to direct your life and live to positively represent it and Him.
Rabbi Berel Wein was once invited to a meeting with the editor of the Detroit Free Press. After introductions had been made, the editor told him the following story:
His mother, Mary, had immigrated to America from Ireland as an uneducated, 18-year-old peasant girl. She was hired as a domestic maid by an observant family. The head of the house was the president of the neighboring Orthodox shul.
Mary knew nothing about Judaism and had probably never met a Jew before arriving in America. The family went on vacation Mary’s first December in America, leaving Mary alone in the house. They were scheduled to return on the night of December 24, and Mary realized that there would be no Christmas tree to greet them when they did. This bothered her greatly, and using the money the family had left her, she went out and purchased not only a Christmas tree but all kinds of festive decorations to hang on the front of the house.
When the family returned from vacation, they saw the Christmas tree through the living room window and the rest of the house festooned with holiday lights. They assumed that they had somehow pulled into the wrong driveway and drove around the block. But alas, it was their address.
The head of the family entered the house contemplating how to explain the Christmas tree and lights to the members of the shul, most of whom walked right past his house on their way to shul. Meanwhile, Mary was eagerly anticipating the family’s excitement when they realized that they would not be without a Christmas tree.
After entering the house, the head of the family called Mary into his study. He told her, “In my whole life no one has ever done such a beautiful thing for me as you did.” Then he took out a $100 bill — a very large sum in the middle of the Depression — and gave it to her. Only after that did he explain that Jews do not have Christmas trees.
When he had finished telling the story, the editor told Rabbi Wein, “And that is why, there has never been an editorial critical of Israel in the Detroit Free Press since I became editor, and never will be as long as I am the editor.”
The shul president’s reaction to Mary’s mistake – sympathy and kindness instead of anger — was not because he dreamed that one day her son would be the editor of a major metropolitan paper, and thus in a position to aid Israel. He acted as he did because it was the right thing to do. (Story shared by Jonathan Ronseblum)
Each day in Kedusha we affirm our mission statement – nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam – we are here to sanctify Your name in this world, to live Your values, model the lifestyle You want us to live, pursue justice and righteousness, and bring Your presence ever more into a world that seems to be driving it away.
Our mission is to be marbeh k’vod shomayim, increase honor and admiration of God, to have the people who work with us, shop next to us, work out near us, do business with us walk away and say wow – that’s what it means to be a Torah Jew. That person was honest, kind, sensitive, had integrity, was thoughtful, moral, and humble. Webster’s dictionary still includes a definition of “to Jew” as “to bargain sharply with; beat down in price.” Our mission is for dictionaries to list “to Jew” as to be kind, gracious, honest, good, just, giving, to be humble and righteous.
Tip the valet or show appreciation to your waiter – you have made a Kiddush Hashem. Be stingy or unappreciative and you’ve made a chillul Hashem. Hold the door for the person behind you or say good morning to the security guard, you have made a Kiddush Hashem. Walk right by them or let the door hit the person in the face, you have set back the mission. Be honest, trustworthy and reliable, you have sanctified God’s name. Bend the truth, cut corners and be unprofessional, and nobody will want to learn about your God. Share a racist or lewd joke or discriminate and you have made a chillul Hashem—a vacuum where God cannot reside. Fight for justice and see all people as containing a tzelem Elokim and you have given a huge boost to the mission.
Our parsha reminds us that we have a mission to fulfill, a mandate to achieve.
May we never again be forced to die al Kiddush Hashem, but may we find the strength, resolve and courage to make choices each and every day that will result in Kiddush Hashem.