Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Emor: Kamikazes, suicide bombers vs. sanctifying G'd's name
G'd's purpose of taking the Jewish people out of Egypt was that we publicly sanctify His name. There is a basic commandment that obligates every Jew to be ready to give up his life to sanctify G'd's name. In a life-threatening situation, the general rule is that one should desecrate G'd's decrees and laws to saves one's life. Bilam was ready to die a righteous death, but he was not ready to live the life of the righteous. One who understands that this world is transitory is at least on an intellectual level ready to sacrifice his life in this world for a better life in the World to Come. The hatred of suicide bombers is so great that they are ready to give up their lives just for the sake of killing as many people as possible. The binding of Isaac as an offering was the ultimate test for Abraham. As members of G'd's chosen nation we are looked upon as ambassadors representing G'd's will on earth. The more observant and the more learned we are the greater the responsibility. We are expected to take caution before we do something that it should not bring about even an unintentional desecration of G'd's name. Whenever we enter a synagogue to say Kaddish or to answer Amen to a Kaddish, we express our longing for the time when G'd's name will be exalted and sanctified with the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
It says in this week's Torah portion (Vayikra 22:31-33) "And you shall keep My commandments and perform them … and you shall not desecrate My holy name and I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel. I am G'd Who sanctifies you, Who took you out from the land of Egypt to be a G'd to you." Rashi quotes our sages in the Mechilta (para.6) who explain why the exodus from Egypt is mentioned in this verse. This is to teach us that G'd's purpose of taking the Jewish people out of Egypt was that we publicly sanctify His name.
Give up life
The basic commandment to sanctify G'd's name obligates every Jew to be ready to give up his life. This obligation only applies if we are forced either to serve idols, commit murder, or adultery, under threat of being killed. This applies even if the one threatening our life has no religious motive. In an extreme case, where a Jew is forced to transgress a Torah law just to make him go against the will of G'd, one would be obligated to give up one's life for any commandment or Jewish custom. This obligation is included in what we say everyday in the first paragraph of Shema (Devarim 6:5): "And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart, will all your soul, and withal your resources …" As the Talmud (Sanhedrin 74a) teaches "Even if someone will take your soul, you are obligated to give up your life rather than transgress the commandments."
Live by them
However, in the first of last week's two portions the Torah teaches (Vayikra 18:5) "You shall keep My decrees and My laws … and live by them." The Talmud (ibid) explains that, in general, G'd does not want us to give up our lives to perform His commandments. In a life-threatening situation one is obligated to desecrate the decrees and laws of the Torah in order to saves a life. Only in cases of the three major transgressions mentioned above and in times of religious persecution is one obligated to give up one's life rather than transgress a law of the Torah.
Daily righteous life
However difficult it may be to sacrifice one's life in order to sanctify G'd's name there is something even greater: to sanctify G'd's name in one's daily life. The gentile prophet, Bilam, declared (Bamidbar 23:10) "May my soul die the death of the righteous and may my end be like his." Bilam believed in the world to come and was ready to die the death of the righteous. But, says the Chofetz Chaim, he was not ready to live the life of the righteous every day.
Anyone who understands that this world is transitory, whereas the World to Come is eternal, is at least on an intellectual level ready to sacrifice his life in this world for a better life in the World to Come. Even in the gentile world the concept of giving up one's life for a higher purpose has been accepted throughout the generations in various forms. Patriotic soldiers have always been ready to put their lives in danger for the security and honour of their homeland. During the Second World War, Japanese Kamikaze pilots undertook suicidal missions to inflict as much damage as possible to the Allied Forces out of hatred for their enemy.
Similarly, the Islamic world has brought up a whole generation of suicide bombers. Their hatred towards the Western world, in general, and the Jewish people, in particular, is so great that they are ready to give up their lives just for the sake of killing as many people as possible. Many of these hate-mongers have very little value in their present life. On top of this they are victims of a rigorous brain-washing about a life to come where they will find all the pleasures they are craving in this world. This combination enables them to give up their life just in order to kill. With their evil eye, haughty spirit and greedy soul, they truly belong to the school of the wicked Bilam (see Pirkei Avos 5:22).
But even for the righteous Abraham and his disciples, with their good eye, humble spirit and modest soul, it is more difficult to sacrifice everything during one's life rather than sacrificing one's life. This is evident in the test of the Akeidah, where Abraham was told by G'd to bring his beloved son Isaac as an offering. The Akeidah is described as a test for Abraham rather than a test for Isaac although he was 37 years old at that time. Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, Mashgiach of the famous Lakewood Yeshiva, once explained this in the following way. Abraham was tested whether he would give up his most precious son and continue to live in this world without him. This was the son that Abraham had prayed for so many years and had expended so much effort to educate. He expected him to continue in his ways and teach future generations about Monotheism. The binding of Isaac as an offering was the ultimate test for Abraham. Isaac, on the other hand, knew that he was going to enter the World to Come, a world of reward and goodness, and as such it was a much smaller test for him than for his father.
Ambassadors of G'd's will
As descendants of Abraham and Isaac, we are obligated to sanctify the name of G'd through our daily conduct. The Torah obligates us in the first portion of the Shema to love G'd with all our heart, soul and resources. The Talmud (Yuma 86a) explains how we can express our love to G'd. As mentioned above "with all our soul" refers to our obligation to give up our life if necessary to sanctify G'd's name. "With all our resources" obligates us to live a life sanctifying G'd's name in all situations and with every act of our conduct. Says the Talmud,"express your love for G'd by doing acts that causes G'd's name to be loved." As members of G'd's chosen nation we are looked upon as ambassadors representing G'd's will on earth. Every act of ours is being scrutinized by our neighbours, not as individuals but as how the Jewish people conduct themselves. When we deal honestly in our business, we speak pleasantly to people around us, we sanctify G'd's name. And when we do the opposite, G'd forbid, we desecrate His Holy Name.
The more observant, and the more learned we are, the greater the responsibility. As the Rambam (Laws of Fundamentals of the Torah 5:11) writes, "the greater the sage is, he must be more cautious how he conducts himself and go beyond the letter of the law when he deals with others."
The Sefer Yereim (para.6) teaches that it is not sufficient if a person knows that his conduct is correct. If he is someone who studies Torah, he must distance himself, not only from what is wrong, but also from what may appear to be wrong. Rabbi Avraham Pam, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Va'Daas explains that even if the person knows himself that there is nothing wrong with what he is doing, he must realize that people who see him are not necessarily going to give him the benefit of the doubt. He must therefore distance himself from such conduct in order not to desecrate G'd's name. With this insight, we can understand what it says Pirkei Avos (4:5). The Mishnah teaches that in regards to the desecration of G'd's name, there is no excuse that it was done unintentionally. We are expected to take caution before we do something to make sure that it will not bring about even an unintentional desecration of G'd's name.
Every act we do makes a difference. When we fulfill a commandment, or refrain from transgressing a prohibition, for no other reason than it is G'd's instructions for us, we are sanctifying G'd's name. On the other hand, writes the Rambam (ibid 10), if a person transgresses one of the laws of the Torah without any coercion to do so, one desecrates G'd's name.
Whenever we enter a synagogue and say Kaddish or answer Amen to a Kaddish said there, we express our longing for the time when G'd's name will be exalted and sanctified with the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. When a mourner says Kaddish in honour of a departed loved one, this is one of the greatest merits that one can provide for this loved one. However, if the mourner's lifestyle is a desecration of G'd's name, it is obvious that it is limited how much merit can come from saying a prayer when it contradicts with one's lifestyle. This is not to suggest that anyone who is not observant should not say Kaddish. To the contrary, just saying the words themselves, and all the people answering Amen, is a tremendous merit for the one who passed away. However, there is no doubt that the power of this most beautiful prayer is much stronger if the mourner at the same time makes an effort in his personal life and conduct to do whatever he can to sanctify G'd's name. May we all merit to see the fulfillment of this prayer soon in our days.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network