A Living Kiddush Hashem

This week, the Torah enjoins us in the name of Hashem: “You shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among Bnei Yisrael.”

This double mission — to avoid even the semblance of a chillul Hashem, and to ensure that all of our actions create a kiddush Hashem — is a crucial part of our mandate as Klal Yisrael.

We often associate these terms with how we act in front of those outside our community, in particular in front of non-Jews.

Indeed, the importance of this aspect of kiddush Hashem can’t be overstated.

But being mekadesh Shem Shamayim is a mission that applies at all times and in every situation. We are obligated to ensure that our actions are creating a kiddush Hashem even in the privacy of our own homes, in front of our immediate family. Even when we are alone in a building, we must conduct ourselves with purity and holiness, for we are always standing in front of Hashem.

For generations, Jews have given up their lives al kiddush Hashem. Often the mesirus nefesh they exhibited while they still lived was greater than even the loftiness they revealed during their last moments.

As a people, we have endured vicious, constant persecution at the hands of the nations, and in what proved an even more potent threat, battled the powerful, devastating movements that sought to tear us away from our roots.

Were did we find the strength to persevere?

Chazal (Menachos 53a) tell us of a “conversation,” so to speak, between knesses Yisrael and Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

“Show me gratitude, for I have made You known to the world,” Knesses Yisrael requests of the Ribbono shel Olam.

“My gratitude is not to you. I show gratitude only to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, who were the first to make me famous in the world,” Hashem replies.

Why is being first so distinctive?

And if being the first one is what counts, then only Avraham Avinu should be credited. Why are all three Avos mentioned?

Each of the Avos added a new element in the concept of mesirus nefesh.

When Avraham Avinu shattered the idols of his father Terach and was consequently thrown into a fiery furnace, he was the first to be moser nefesh in such a fashion. By his actions, he made it possible for his descendants in every generation to have the moral clarity and courage to willingly give up their lives for the sake of Hashem and His Torah.

When his son Yitzchak Avinu willingly allowed himself to be bound and offered for what was thought to be a human sacrifice, he added yet another level of mesirus nefesh. For while it took an enormous level of emunah for Avraham Avinu to enter the flames of Ur Kasdim, there was a strong possibility that Hashem would make a miracle and save his life. On the other hand, as per the understanding by Yitzchak of what Hashem had commanded his father, it was Hashem’s will that he be slaughtered on the mizbei’ach, ruling out the possibility of remaining alive through a miracle.

Yaakov Avinu added yet another level.

For twenty long years he endured suffering and tribulations in the house of Lavan. Yet he did not cease to study Torah and keep all the applicable mitzvos. He knew that his father-in-law, a pillar of impurity and evil, was the polar opposite of all he stood for. There was a very real possibility that one day Lavan would decide that he could no longer tolerate the holiness of Yaakov, and kill him.

Yet Yaakov would not allow the danger of Lavan to deter him in his avodas Hashem. Day after day, month after month, year after year, he continued to serve Hashem on the most elevated levels.

The mesirus nefesh of Avraham Avinu at Ur Kasdim lasted a brief moment, as did the mesirus nefesh of Yitzchak in the nisayon of the Akeidah.

But the mesirus nefesh of Yaakov Avinu stretched over the period of many years.

These three Avos laid the foundation for all those who came after them, for when they faced their tests they didn’t know how things would turn out.

But we do know. We have their golden example before us, lighting up our paths.

(Based on the teachings of the Ben Ish Chai)

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The mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer is also taught in this parashah. As we seek to take full advantage of these unique days
of spiritual growth through self-improvement and trait perfection, we would benefit greatly by keeping the ideals of kiddush Hashem and mesirus nefesh in our hearts and minds.