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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Rosh Hashana 5771 - Parshas Ha'azinu/Shabbos Shuva - Sanctified Life
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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9/7/10

STAM TORAH

ROSH HASHANAH 5771

PARSHAS HA’AZINU/SHABBOS SHUVA

SANCTIFIED LIFE

Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandel zt’l miraculously survived the Nazi inferno and escaped to America, after losing his wife and five sons. Rabbi Weissmandel moved to Williamsburg and would travel from shul to shul warning about what was transpiring in Europe and begging American Jewry to do whatever they could to help their brethren.

After the war ended, Rabbi Weissmandel remarried and was blessed with five more sons, each of which became Torah scholars.

At the b’ris of the fifth son in Mount Kisco, NY, Rabbi Weissmandel related the following: “We say in the kedusha prayer, “Nikadesh es shimcha ba’olam – We will sanctify Your Name in this world”, “K’shem shemakdishim oso b’shmei marom – Just as they (the angels) sanctify it (Your Name) in the celestial heavens.”

“This morning I thought of a new understanding of those words: “We will sanctify Your name in this world”, i.e. we will raise our sons to sanctify the Name of G-d in this world, “Just as they” – my five previous sons who died sanctifying G-d’s Name – “are sanctifying His Name in the celestial heavens”. My efforts with my five sons in this world will parallel what my five sons are accomplishing in the World of Truth.”

The Torah reading for the two days of Rosh Hashanah are two events from the life of our Patriarch, Avrohom Avinu. Each reading describes an event which demonstrates Avrohom’s unequivocal dedication to Kiddush Hashem - sanctifying the Name of G-d[1].

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah we recount the miraculous birth of Yitzchok. After living most of their life devoid of children, Avrohom and Sarah - already beyond childbearing years - are informed that they will merit a child. Word about Yitzchok’s birth spread to the entire civilized world and it was a tremendous sanctification of G-d’s Name. The man and woman who dedicated their entire life to promulgating the Word of G-d were graced by G-d with a child.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we recount the seminal events of Akeidas Yitzchok. It is the account of when Avrohom selflessly bound his beloved son Yitzchok upon the altar, reading him to be offered as a sacrifice to G-d.

It is hardly a coincidence that these two narratives were designated as the Torah readings for Rosh Hashanah. The Sages explain that Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of man. Being that “there is no king without a nation” G-d’s title as King essentially began on Rosh Hashanah, the day when man was created enabling him to accept the yoke of G-d’s monarchy upon himself. Therefore, on Rosh Hashanah it is incumbent upon us to reaccept upon ourselves that yoke and to proclaim our unyielding dedication to G-d’s eternal Kingship.

Despite the fact that the two days of Rosh Hashanah are the first two days of the Ten Days of Penitence, there is no mention of iniquity, contriteness, or confession in the Rosh Hashanah service. The process of repentance commences with a cognizance of the august majesty of G-d and how integral it is that we pledge our sole allegiance to the Torah and all that G-d expects of us.

It is only after we have reaccepted upon ourselves that premise during Rosh Hashanah that we can continue with the basic steps of repentance during the remaining eight days.

Thus it is apropos that the Torah readings of Rosh Hashanah are narratives about the life of Avrohom, for Avrohom lived his entire life in order to sanctity G-d’s Name and to proclaim His monotheistic greatness throughout the world. Both events were incredible sanctifications of G-d’s Name, albeit in very different ways.

What exactly defines Kiddush Hashem?

The kabalistic writings explain that when G-d created the world, He constrained some of His Presence, as it were. Although the entire world is composed of Divinity and is all a manifestation of G-d’s Will which maintains the existence of the world every moment, the Hand of G-d is hidden behind the laws and processes of nature. Therefore, in its very essence the physical world is an obscuration of G-d[2]. As the prophet Yeshaya stated,[3] “It is true that You are the Almighty who hides Himself.”

Our responsibility in this world is to uncover that mask and reveal the Divine Light to the world through our actions and the manner in which we live our lives. Whenever we are able to reveal some of that hidden light in this world it results in “Kiddush Hashem”, and the entire world benefits from the act.

However, contrary to popular belief, Kiddush Hashem need not be done in public. In fact the more private and altruistic an act is the greater the resultant Kiddush Hashem. Rambam[4] writes that any act performed for no other reason other than because G-d commanded that it be done – not out of fear, and not for the pursuit of glory –is considered the greatest Kiddush Hashem.

This means that the spiritual revelation that emerges when one accomplishes Kiddush Hashem is not a physical measurable force. The extent of Kiddush Hashem takes into account intent and motivation, which is indiscernible to the human eye. Thus, what may seem to the human mind to be a tremendous Kiddush Hashem may pale in comparison to an act done in private that no one is aware of other than G-d Himself[5].

Towards the end of the Second World War as the Nazi war machine began to capitulate and surrender en masse to the advancing Allied forces, the Concentration Camp inmates began to realize that liberation was imminent. But the extent of the nefariousness of the Nazi barbarians knew no limits. Just a few hours prior to the liberation of one particular camp, a Nazi commander ordered all the camp inmates to gather for one final roll call. When they were all gathered together he ordered one saintly inmate to step forward.

He looked at the helpless inmate with apathy and said, “For five years you have survived the most heinous conditions and now you are just moments away from liberation. I know how much you sacrificed to maintain your faith throughout these years and I know how many times you were ready to die for your faith. Well now you will have that chance again. Eat this piece of pork that I am placing before you, or I will kill you right now!”

The inmate was torn; if he ate it he would be free in just a few minutes. But at this moment he was being challenged to violate his faith in front of everyone. After a moment’s deliberation the heroic Jew refused. In characteristic malice the Nazi killed him. His fresh blood continued to flow even as the Allied forces burst into the camp.

The martyr’s daughter survived the war and began searching for her family. When she heard about the brutal manner in which her father was killed, she vowed that she would never follow the Torah again.

She immigrated to Eretz Yisroel and raised her children and family to be completely secular, devoid of any semblance of religion. To ensure that her children would have no connection with religion she would often send them to Tel Aviv to purchase pork to bring home to eat.

One day she sent one of her sons on one of such errands. As he was standing outside the non-kosher deli in Tel Aviv about to enter it suddenly struck him: “What am I doing? Am I going to buy meat for which my grandfather gave up his life because he would not eat it, moments before he would have been free?”

At that moment he decided that he would never again eat non-kosher meat and that he would seek to understand the values for which his holy grandfather had died. Today he is a Torah observant Jew with a religious family.

One analyzing this story could perhaps argue that the inmate was wrong to give up his life at that moment. In fact, prima facie it seems he caused a terrible Chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d Name) by causing his daughter to renege her faith because of his sacrifice. It was only a generation later that it became clear that the man’s actions were the catalyst for his grandson’s return to a life of Torah.

Our responsibility is to sanctify the Name of G-d, regardless of what the outcome may be. It is G-d’s World and He will run it as He sees fit. Our responsibility is merely to do as we are commanded.

In our time, our timeless values and principles often become befuddled with the values of an undulating society. Recently there was much discussion about the fact that a Jewish man proudly wore a yarmulke and tallis at his wedding, where his bride was a well-known non-Jew[6]!

Commenting about the ordeal, an influential Modern Orthodox Rabbi wrote[7]: “What the world saw is that a fully attired – proud? – Jew could get right to the top of American society… that there were Sheva Brachot, a chupa, a k’tuba, and that tallis and kipa, for the world to see. Doesn’t that put the wedding in the category of Kiddush Hashem as well.”

What an egregious error! To think that demonstrating a sense of pride in Jewish identity while committing the greatest act of treachery to one’s faith is a Kiddush Hashem is a terrible distortion.

“We have become so desensitized to right and wrong as defined by our Torah, that we now easily substitute its superlative standards of divine nobility with the cheap moral standards of the media. Political incorrectness has become to many a more serious transgression than Chillul Hashem. Even intermarriage has become "normal;" it is the disapproving comment about it that is criticized more than the act itself. Kiddush Hashem has become a tool for Jewish public relations instead of it being a very clearly and objectively defined tenet of the Torah. Any action of a Jew that the public applauds is considered Kiddush Hashem, any that the public disapproves of is thought of as Chillul Hashem

“Let's not forget that the most basic Chillul Hashem is doing any sin, and the most basic Kiddush Hashem is doing any mitzvah or refraining from doing a sin, even when no one is looking. Once we are doing mitzvos, then the public image of the way we do them, the style with which we do them, and the reactions of others to them, become relevant. Public opinion is a gauge of style and sanity, but never one of morality. Positive public opinion is no substitute for the moral compass provided to us by halachah.[8]

Perhaps one of the most poignant lessons about Kiddush Hashem can be gleaned from the life of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe, the consummate leader who devoted his entire life to the welfare of his beloved nation, was barred entry into Eretz Yisroel, the land he so coveted. G-d told Moshe that he was being punished “Because you (ma’altem) trespassed against Me among the Children of Israel at the waters of Merivas-Kadesh… because You did not sanctify Me among the Children of Israel[9].” Rashi explains, “You caused that I was not sanctified, for I said to you ‘And you shall speak to the rock’. But they struck it, and needed to strike it twice. But if they would have spoken to it and it would have given forth its waters, the Name of Heaven would have been sanctified for Israel would have said ‘If this rock which is not destined for reward or punishment… fulfills the commandment of the Creator in such a manner, how much more so must we!”

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l notes that the Torah accuses Moshe of “me’ilah”, which implies misuse and misappropriation. The truth is that that ordeal caused an incredible Kiddush Hashem, for the nation witnessed water flowing from a rock. However, had Moshe adhered to his original instruction that he merely speak to the rock it would have caused an even greater Kiddush Hashem.

We see that one who does not accomplish as much as he is able to is labeled by the Torah as committing a sin of me’ilah against Hashem. If one has the ability to accomplish more, why was he slothful? Here where Moshe effected a great Kiddush Hashem he was held culpable for not accomplishing even more!

During the life of Avrohom he faced tremendous adversity and pressure because of his socially erratic and radical beliefs. Yet he held strong and persevered. The world saw that G-d was with him and wrought miracles on his behalf. Avrohom’s emergence from the furnace of Nimrod, his victories in the great battle against four mighty empires, and the birth of Yitzchok were unquestionably great sanctifications of G-d’s Name. It is about the latter of those great events which we read about on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

On the second day however, we read about a very different event. Avrohom was clandestinely instructed to commit an act which to the rest of the world sounded appallingly barbaric. It was a commandment that logically made no sense. Slaughtering Yitzchok would destroy the future of the Jewish people, and thereby eradicating any hope for a Bais Hamikdash, or a future Messiah. Yet Avrohom did not waver. He immediately set out to fulfill the Will of G-d with alacrity.

That act accomplished a very different level of Kiddush Hashem. It was done privately without fanfare or publicity and - were it not for the Torah’s account - no one would have known that it even occurred. It would seem that Yitzchak’s birth was a far greater event than the akeidah, for it was a far more public display of G-d’s greatness. But the opposite is true. The miracle of Yitzchak’s birth required no human involvement. The akeidah however, entailed incredible self sacrifice. For thousands of years, and even in our time, we continue to beseech G-d to recall the akeidah and to grant us favor and compassion on its account. The merit of fulfilling G-d’s will altruistically trumps all else and therefore it remains the ultimate merit for his progeny.

“Blow before Me with the shofar of a ram, in order that I will recall for you the binding of Yitzchok, the son of Avrohom, and I will consider it for you as if you had bound yourselves before Me[10]

Rosh Hashanah is the day when we proclaim the re-carnation of G-d’s eternal monarchy over the world. We remind ourselves that our role vis-à-vis G-d’s kingship is to reveal His Omnipotence into a world which obscures it. That revelation is the result of our fulfillment of His Will, even – or perhaps especially – when no one else is watching[11]

“We will sanctify Your Name in the world”

“The world is filled with His Glory”

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[1] The following thoughts about Kiddush Hashem and how it emerges from the Torah readings of Rosh Hashanah is based on an essay by Rabbi Ezriel Tauber shlita, Pirkei Machshava, Yerach Ha’aysanim

[2] The word Olam – world is similar to the word he’elam – hidden

[3] 45:15

[4] Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 5:10

[5] For example, a person who averts his gaze from a forbidden image in his path as he walks down the street may be a far greater Kiddush Hashem than one who performs a mitzvah in front of hundreds of people.

[6] Marc Mezvinsky married Chelsea Clinton

[7]http://www.jewishjournal.com/morethodoxy/item/chilul_hashem_and_kiddush_hashem_the_clinton_mezvinsky_wedding_20100802/

[8] Quote from Rabbi David Lapin, iawaken.com, Parshas Re’eh 5770, “Has Modern Orthodoxy lost the plot?”

[9] Devorim 32:51

[10] Rosh Hashanah 16a

[11] This is not to detract from the incredible merit and tremendous Kiddush Hashem accomplished by one who inspires others to serve G-d, But it must also be realized that Kiddush Hashem has a physically invisible yet spiritually uplifting effect which is not bound to our value judgments.



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