Defining Kiddush HaShem

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Rambam, in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah [5:10] writes, that the person who was the most noted for being mekadesh shem Shamayim in this world was- Yosef HaTzaddik.

This is quite a strange statement coming from Rambam. After all, sanctifying G-d is most commonly associated with dying for G-d. Why didn’t the Rambam pick any of the great Rabbis, such as Rabbi Akiva or any of the other harugei malchut, who gave their lives for HaShem and died with the words of Shema on their lips? Why pick Yosef who did not die for HaShem?

Rav Soloveitchik offers an interesting insight. He suggests that for Rambam the greatest manifestation of sanctifying G-d’ name- is not dying for Him but living for G-d. In many ways dying for a cause is easer than living for one. Dying takes but a few moments and is associated with glory and honor. Living for G-d requires an every-day and every-moment commitment. When we are behind that wheel and wear our kippa do we drive our car with courtesy or with aggression; are we a Kiddush HaShem or chillul [desecrate] HaShem?

Some people purposely do not display their kippa while driving but wear a cap or hat, because they can’t control their bad driving manners so they would rather that their Jewishness not be known. Do we wait on check-out lines patiently and respectfully to those ahead of us? Do we acknowledge everyone we meet, including those we don’t know with a friendly smile or greeting? Do we address by name those that service us; our mail person, our sanitation collector, our building custodian? That is what Kiddush HaShem is all about, a full time and full lifetime responsibility.

Note how Rambam formulates the laws of Kiddush HaShem. What is Kiddush HaShem, he asks? Rather than list the times one should die for G-d, the Rambam first lists those times when one should transgress the law rather than die. Only after explaining when life overrides the law, does Rambam mention the few times when dying for G-d in mandated [Yesodei HaTorah 5:1,2]. Apparently we see, that living for G-d is paramount, therefore the Rambam mentions it first.

We are the people chosen to represent G-d in this world. Each and every one of us is a member of that Holy nation and each of us represents that nation to the world. That’s an enormously huge task to fulfill, being at our best behavior every moment of our life.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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