Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Volume 2: Number 7
November 1, 2005
Mitzvah #5: Sanctify G-d
It is a positive commandment sanctify G-d publicly.
Hafetz Hayim: This is based on Lev. 22:32. This we must do by submitting our life to death if necessary, and with all our might , to make His faith widely known. Thus if others wish to compel someone to turn away from our faith, he should not want at all to listen, but should submit his life to execution on account of this. Neither should he mislead the one compelling him to make him thimk that he has turned heretic, although in his heart he believes in G-d… If he one applying the force means to make him change his faith and it is in public, which means before 10 Jews, then even over any other transgressions, and even if it is not a time of persecution, the even in private he is to accept death sooner than trangress. If idol worship, consanguineous sexual relations or adultery, or bloodshed is involved ( as the act he is being forced to commit) then even in private, even when it is not a time of persecution and even if it is being done for the pleasure of the one forcing him, he is to accept death sooner than transgress. If he is in public and sanctifies the Divine name in public and openly, there is no deed higher than this. This is in force everywhere and at all time for both men and women.
It should be clear already that the term, “sanctify G-d” refers to martyrdom. Unfortunately this is a situation that Jews have found themselves in many time in history and the laws of martyrdom have been refined over the centuries. The Hafetz Hiyyim tries to say in a few words the complexity of these laws, and I will try and explain his thinking by expanding his thoughts.
Many authorities insist that one does not have to give up their life to sanctify the name of G-d. When we live a good, moral life, when we act with kindness to others and treat every person with consideration. When we go out of our way to display acts of compassion and concern, others will look at us and think AThis is the way a Jew behaves, this person is a credit to his or her faith, This person must be in awe of G-d and it must be a special G-d who demands this kind of life from those who are faithful.@ This is one way we are able to sanctify G-d.
We are commanded to give up our life to G-d and not transgress the commandments even if we are under duress when doing so will bring dishonor to G-d. It does not matter if it is in public or private, we must honor G-d and not give those who are cruel and unbelievers support in their misguided philosophies. The only difference is that in public we may not perform acts of dishonor because this may dishearten other Jews and cause them to violate mitzvot. In private we should not perform those acts but even an authority as Miamonidies admits that those who do violate in private should be treated with compassion because we do not really know what we would do if we were in the same position. In times of great peril, as during the Inquisition in Spain, it is permitted to live one life in public and in private, and in our hearts, keep strong our faith and our commitment to a Jewish life.
In three areas we must always die rather than violate these commandments. We must not kill another person to save our lives, we must not engage in forbidden sexual acts or adultery and we must not perform public acts of idolatry. We can not think our blood is redder than the one we are ordered to kill, we must not violate the person of any other person, for they are not less a person than we are, and we must not give public approval to any worship that is against our understanding of G-d. In all three cases, in public or private, we must not violate the law but accept death.
There is no higher mitzvah that to give our life to sanctify the name of G-d. Just remember that sometimes, just by doing the right thing, we can bring honor to G-d without endangering our lives. There is also a negative commandment that is associated with this mitzvah which is to not profane the name of G-d. We can not profane the name of G-d and must always act to sanctify G-d=s name.
Next week: Mitzvah 6: To walk in G-d’s ways
Note: Due to the Holidays and Hurricane Wilma, there has been a hiatus of these lessons. I am happy to report that all is well, now, with me and my family and our damage is minimal. With G-d’s help we will be able to get these messages out without further interruption.