By Rabbi Label Lam
Parshas Emor - Beginning With The End In Mind
"And you shall not desecrate My holy name; and I shall be sanctified in the
midst of the Children of Israel. I am G-d Who sanctifies you - Who took you
out of the land of Egypt to be a G-d for you."
This passage is the commandment for a Jew to make a "Kiddush Hashem"; to
sanctify the name of
G-d. That is, to bring greatness to G-d in the eyes of the world through
our dedication to Him, even if means making the ultimate dedication -
giving up our lives in particular circumstances which call for it.
Why does the Torah juxtapose G-d having taken our nation out of Egypt with
this commandment of Sanctifying G-d's name? Rashi, the great medieval
commentator, explains that G-d is conveying that He rescued us from Egypt
on the condition that we sanctify His name.
Maimonides in his great legal work, Yad HaChazaka, organizes his work into
many different sections. This commandment is placed in the section
containing the basics, upon which all other aspects of service of G-d are
built. This section is called "Foundations of Torah." He writes as
follows."All of the House of Israel is commanded regarding the
sanctification of G-d's name, and we are commanded not to desecrate it..."
Rabbi Shalom Noach Brezovsky questions the way Maimonides explains this.
"All of the House of Israel is commanded regarding the sanctification of
G-d's name." Many commandments apply equally to all Jews. Why in regard to
this commandment did Maimonides specify that the entire House of Israel is
commanded? Rabbi Brezovsky also notes the placement of this commandment in
this section of "Foundations of Torah."
To reconcile this, Rabbi Brezovsky quotes a passage from Psalms: "for we
are killed for You all of the day," about which the Rashba, a great
medieval commentator, provides an explanation: "Is it possible to be killed
for G-d daily? Rather this refers to when we recite "Hear Oh Israel, Hashem
Our G-d, Hashem Is One...You shall love Hashem your G-d with all of your
soul..., which means even if He takes your soul from you. If we stand ready
to return our souls to G-d each day, if G-d so desires, then it is as if we
had done so, and G-d counts it as if we had. The problem with this
explanation is why does the passage state "we are killed for you _all_ of
the day" rather than "_every_ day"?
Following a slightly different approach, Rabbi Brezovsky explains that this
commandment of sanctifying G-d's name is an essential goal and the purpose
of every Jew at all times, every day of his life. That is why Maimonides
placed it in "Foundations of Torah," and emphasized that it is incumbent on
all of the House of Israel. It doesn't only apply when a Jew is forced with
the choice of committing a cardinal sin or dying. It is meant to be the
daily focus of every Jew to prioritize doing G-d's commandments and
overcome all of the internal and external obstacles which constantly get in
the way of doing so. This is "_living_ to sanctify the name of G-d," as
opposed to the one-time "_dying_ to sanctify the name of
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzatto writes in his work "Path of The Just" "that we
are placed in this world where many are the things which distance us from
G-d." If we follow these 'distractions' we end up further and further away
from the true good. Sanctifying G-d's name means doing a personal battle
against the myriad of worldly distractions which lure us away on a daily,
even momentary basis.
The Chofetz Chaim gives an analogy to our mission in this world. A poor man
hears that in a far-away country, diamonds can be found laying everywhere,
strewn upon the ground, free for the taking. This poor fellow dreamt of
making the long journey and becoming a wealthy man. After verifying that
this place indeed exists, and making the necessary preparations for his
family, he sets out on his trip. Upon his arrival, he immediately begins
gathering diamonds into his bag with fervor. Natives of the land notice the
odd man enthusiastically collecting the "cheap trinkets" which are in such
great supply in their land, and consequently worthless. "What do you want
with those, stranger? You've got your priorities all mixed up! Do you wish
to know what is of true worth? In our land people will pay handsomely for
fish! Stop wasting your time with those silly stones, and start prospecting
for a thing of real worth!"
Realizing how foolish he looked collecting the "worthless stones" into his
bag, the poor man began the enterprise of catching fish. Starting small, he
built up his business until he had become a man of considerable means. As
his time drew close to embark toward home, he decided to invest all of his
amassed resources in - fish - the most valued resource. With his huge
storage of fish he sailed for home. After much time, and great hardship, he
indeed arrived in his home-port. There was an emotional reunion, and he
then proudly displayed his "great wealth" which he had amassed. By now, no
one could bear the odor, as the fish were rotted. The despairing look on
his wife's face, if not the odor of the fish, made him realize his folly.
Needless to say, he was ashamed and filled with regret. Fortunately, the
man remembered one small bag with the original diamonds which he had begun
collecting when he first arrived, which he had decided to bring as a
present for his wife.
This is the situation we find ourselves in. G-d sends our souls into this
physical existence with the goal of amassing "diamonds." These are the
Torah's commandments. As there are so few who understand the value of the
commandments in this "distant land" we find ourselves mortgaging our lives
for the things which have popular value - temporary pleasures, financial
wealth, honor, power, etc., and we regard them as an end in themselves. The
commandments are cheap and disdained. When it comes time to pack for our
eternal home, we find how rotten and putrid our "treasures" have become,
and then, we become only too aware of our folly. Then we will search,
hoping to find a few real "diamonds" which we certainly will have
collected, to bring along, and we will find a precious few, wishing that we
had set our priorities with our long trip in mind.
We are here in this world to bring honor to G-d's name. It is not only in
dying for His principles that we bring honor to G-d, but by living with
great dedication to G-d's commandments in the Torah. It is easy to lose
sight of the most important priorities, and so we must be strong and
focused. We must know that we are here for a purpose, and concentrate our
efforts on achieving it. Ultimately, we will return "home" with great
wealth of true and eternal worth.
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Label Lam and
Project Genesis, Inc.