Monday, May 8, 2017

Rabbi Josh Hoffman - Kiddush Hashem

This dvar Torah was written by Rabbi Josh Hoffman ztz"l who was niftar last Erev Shabbos. He was a great talmid chochom, Eved Hashem and Ba'al yisurim. [Bli neder we will bring a lot more in the future]. 

This week's parsha, Parshas Emor, includes, among the many mitzvos it presents, two mitzvos that are central to the Jewish religion, one being a prohibition against defiling God's name, or chillul Hashem, and the other being a positive commandment, to sanctify His name, or kiddush Hashem, as we read: "You shall not defile My holy name, and I shall be sanctified among the Children of Yisroel…" (Vayikra, 21:32). These mitzvos require us, among other things, to sacrifice our lives rather than transgress the three cardinal prohibitions of idolatry, murder and illicit relations. It is interesting to note the context in which these mitzvos occur, which is after a group of laws concerning animal sacrifices in the mishkan, beginning with the law that an animal cannot be brought as a sacrifice until the eighth day after it was born. What connection could there possibly be between the laws of sacrifices, and particularly this law of the age that an animal must attain before it is brought as a sacrifice and the laws of profaning and sanctifying God's name? I believe that a closer look at the laws of kiddush Hashem, and the concept of kedusha, or holiness, in general, can help us understand this seemingly curious placement of mitzvos. 

The mitzvoh of kiddush Hashem entails more than what we usually think of when we speak of it. We usually conjure up images of someone leaving this world in, as he puts it, a 'blaze of glory,' defying his tormenters and refusing to transgress, for example, the prohibition against idolatry. The midrash of Chanah and her seven sons, who all died resisting the demand to worship idols that was made upon them, often comes to mind when we speak of kiddush Hashem and its converse, chillul Hashem. However, in actuality, when the Talmud Yoma 86a) asks the question, what is chillul Hashem, we find that a much more prosaic definition is given. Rav, as cited by the Talmud, says that if he would buy some meat on credit, he would thereby defile God's name, and Rav Yochanan says that if he would walk four cubits without his tefillin, that would constitute a chillul Hashem. Both rabbis pointed to themselves, in giving example of what chillul Hashem is. Thus, chilul Hashem and kiddush Hashem begin within an inner acknowledgment of the importance of God in our lives. My teacher, Rav Aharon Soloveichik, zt'l, noted that the Rambam, in his Mishneh Torah, when discussing the laws of kiddush Hashem, begins with the instances in which one does not have to sacrifice in order to avoid transgressing a mitzvah. Later in that section of halochos, the Rambam writes that whenever a person does a mitzvoh in a completely sincere, selfless way, purely for God's sake, even privately, he has sanctified God's name. Rav Aharon concluded from his analysis of these halachos in the Rambam that it is a greater achievement to live a life of kiddush Hashem than to die, in one brief moment, in sanctification of God's name. In summary, then, we may say that the mitzvoh of kiddush Hashem, and the avoidance of its converse, the prohibition of chilul Hashem, consists in living a life of holiness, of kedusha, performng God's will in all circumstances and under all conditions. 

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt'l, in a shiur he delivered on the third of Iyar, 5718 ( 1956), as presented by Shlomo Ze'ev Pick of Bar- Ilan University, in his work Moadei Horav, noted that kedusha requires human input, a kind of partnership between God and man. Therefore, Mt. Sinai, where the Torah was given did not retain any special status after that event, while Mt. Moriah, where the Temple was eventually built, still remains the holiest place on earth. The difference is that the Torah was given on Mt .Sinai without any previous imput by the Jewish people, while Mt. Moriah was the spot where, centuries before it was sanctified as the location of the Temple, Avrohom brought his son Yitzchok as a sacrifice to God. A sefer Torah becomes holy only when its scribe who it has when he writes God's name in the scroll with the proper intention. This pattern is followed throughout many areas of halacha. Why, asked Rav Soloveitchik, should this be so? Why should kedusha depend upon human input? Halachically, he explained, kedusha, is rooted in korban, or sacrifice. This is immediately understood, he said by anyone who has studied the Talmudic tractate of Nedarim. In order to impose sanctity on an object through a vow, a person must use a certain formula using some form of the Hebrew word korban. In that way, he creates a certain kind of sanctity on the object upon which he directs his vow. Holiness, concluded Rav Soloveitchik, requires a certain degree of sacrifice on the part of the individual, dedicating his efforts and his life to God and becoming a partner with him in His management of His world. With these thoughts in mind, we can return to our parsha and try to understand the context in which the mitzvos of chilul Hashem and Kiddush Hashem are given.

As we noted, the section in which the mitzvos of chilul and kiddush Hashem appear begins with the law that one must wait until an animal has reached its eighth day before bringing it as a korban. Kiddush Hashem, as we have seen, in its broadest sense, entails living a life of kedusha, and kedusha, as Rav Soloveichik explained, is rooted in the concept of korban, or self-sacrifice. Ramban, in his commentary to parshas Vayikra, writes that when one brings a korban, he must visualize himself as being brought upon the altar. The animal is actually taking his place. He law that a korban is only acceptable once it reaches its eighth day seems to parallel the mitzvah of bris miloh, which occurs on the eighth day. The Chasam Sofer writes that bris miloh is, in fact, a kind of sacrifice. Waiting until the eighth day would then deliver the message that from the time the child is eight days old, we must view him as being dedicated to a life of kedusha, just as a korban is dedicated from its eighth day. It is in this context that the mitzvoh of Kiddush Hashem and its converse, the prohibition of chilul Hashem, mitzvos which teach us that we need to dedicate our children, and ourselves, to a life of kedusha, are given.