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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Emor – To sanctify the name of God

From the phrase "I am to be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people," which is found in this parashah (22:32), the sages of the Talmud inferred that if any enemy of the people publicly threatens one of them publicly with death if they do not disobey the commandments of God, they must give up their life. Every Jew who loses his or her life at the hands of persecuting murderers is said to have died for Kiddush HaShem, for sanctifying the Name of God.

Those who thus sanctified the Name of God throughout Jewish history include all those who lost their lives in the Crusades, the Inquisition, pogroms, the Shoah, and other attacks and persecutions that our ancestors endured in the past and that, as the recent attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway show, Jews continue to suffer in the present.

However, rabbinic jurisprudence on the subject reflects the sages’ desire to otherwise prioritize the preservation of life under conditions of hardship and persecution. This is because the Jewish ideal is to honor God by honoring life, as is testified by the words of Maimonides in Maamar Kiddush HaShem in the twelfth century, or in the responses given by Rabbi Efraim Oshry in the horrific days of the Shoah, compiled in Sheelot uTeshuvot MiMa´amakim.

Unlike other traditions, the Bible teaches that, rather than sacrificing life to honor God, the Creator intends to be honored through life. As we read in the book of Psalms (115: 17-18): "The dead cannot praise God, nor any who go down into silence. But we will bless God, now forever," and in Psalm 118: 17: "I shall not die but live and proclaim the works of God."

Dignifying life through a behavior that reflects the values of the Torah and resisting all those who seek by violence to change the Jewish condition is the essence of the precept of Kiddush HaShem, the sanctification of the name of God.

Shabbat shalom!


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