Can We Sanctify God?
Parshas Emor by Rabbi Yitchak Aryeh Strimber
This week’s Torah reading includes a special Mitzvah (commandment), the Mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. As the verse says (22:32): “And you shall not desecrate my holy name, and I shall be sanctified in the midst of the sons of Israel, I am God who sanctifies you.” Rabeinu Yonah addresses this Mitzvah in a unique way as follows (Sha’arei Teshuva 3:158): “And now, stop and contemplate our great obligation to sanctify the name of God. For the primary reason as to why the Lord has sanctified us with His Torah and Mitzvos and why He has separated us [from the rest of the nations of the world] for Himself, is to sanctify Him and to fear Him.” Every single Jew is obligated by this commandment, as is stated by the Rambam (Laws of The Foundations of the Torah, 5:10). How do we fulfill such a lofty commandment? How is it possible for us to sanctify God, the source of all holiness?
In truth, the actual sanctity of God Himself is untouchable. Nevertheless, we do have the power and the obligation to increase the sanctity of God’s name, “in the midst of the sons of Israel.” When we act in a way that demonstrates the sacredness of God’s will, we demonstrate the sacredness of God, and thereby add sanctity to His name in our world, amongst us people. There are various applications of this commandment. The classic example is when one’s life is threatened by those who want to force him/her to sin, as it is an obligation for one to give up his/her life to avoid transgressing any of the three cardinal sins, (murder, idol worship and engaging in certain forbidden relationships). However, there is another application of this Mitzvah which is described in the Rambam (ibid 5:10) as follows: “Anyone who refrains from transgressing a prohibition or fulfills a Mitzvah, not for any worldly reason, such as fear, awe [of an worldly being] or for the sake of his own honor, but only for the sake of the Creator… he has thereby sanctified the name of God.”
This is an astounding revelation, seemingly almost too good to be true. We need not give up our lives or go on public stage to have the merit of fulfilling this illustrious Mitzvah. We can be sitting in our own homes, all alone, and with a little thought and sincerity, we could accomplish one of the greatest achievements in life, increasing the sanctity of God in our midst. Any time we preforms an act of serving God purely for the sake of honoring God’s will, we have accomplished a Kiddush Hashem. There are boundless opportunities to fulfill this Mitzvah, it’s just a matter of the proper mindset and focus. And, as quoted earlier from Rabeinu Yonah, this is really the main theme of which our lives as Jews is all about.
A Rabbi got up once in front of his congregation to welcome a new convert, a Philippine woman, to the community. He then proceeded to tell the story of how this woman was introduced to Judaism. It was a hot summer day as she was walking down the street towards her destination. Suddenly, she noticed a young Yeshivah boy (a boy who attends a school for Torah study) who had just walked out of a nearby building, and distinctly turned his head away as soon as he saw her. Taken aback, she quickly looked down to see if she was missing any of her clothing, but could not find anything amiss. Intrigued by what she had witnessed, she decided to do some research into Judaism. As she did so, she learned that according to the standards of the Torah she was indeed not dressed appropriately, in a way that was forbidden for a man to see her. Inspired by the devotion this young boy had to restrain himself in adhering to the word of God and by what she had learned about Judaism in the process, she eventually decided that she too wanted to join this special nation. Just a simple act on one’s part in keeping to the Torah values with sincerity, could bring about untold glory to the name of God.
We don’t need to search far for an opportunity to accomplish Kiddush Hashem. All it takes is sincere devotion on our part to the principles of the Torah with a purity of heart, to be able to achieve this magnificent feat. It is a well worthwhile investment to maintain awareness of this point throughout life. With a little extra thought put into our daily actions, we can succeed countless times in having a part in sanctifying God’s name in the world, regardless of whether our actions are recognized by others or not.