A Gathering of Heroes By Mr. Strassman


In Parashat Emor we encounter the Mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name. Hashem commands us, “VeLo Techalelu Et Sheim Kodshi VeNikdashti BeToch Bnei Yisrael Ani Hashem Mekadishchem,” “You shall not profane My holy name, and I will be sanctified among the children of Israel, I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Vayikra 22:32). What does it mean that God will be sanctified among His people? Rashi (ibid. s.v. VeLo Techalelu) presents the simple understanding of these words as the charge to give up one’s life rather than violate the Torah: “Masor Atzmecha VeKadeish Shemi,” “Surrender yourself and sanctify My name.” Indeed, countless Jews throughout our history have fulfilled this mandate to die Al Kiddush Hashem. However, many of these heroes did not intentionally surrender themselves, as Rashi described; nobody volunteers to be a victim. The recent terror attacks in Poway and Pittsburgh serve as a painful reminder that Jews do not always give up their lives by choice. It almost seems like our enemies are the ones who decide upon our martyrdom, and yet we believe that Jews who die in this way have made a Kiddush Hashem. One can be forgiven for feeling confused by this interaction. When a terrorist chooses to commit murder, the Jews who perish are credited with having fulfilled the command of VeNikdashti BeToch Bnei Yisrael. How can we sanctify God without making the choice to do so?

One approach to this question unfolds upon examining another Halachah we learn from this verse. According to the Talmud Bavli (Berachot 21b), the parts of prayer that are especially holy, like Kaddish and Kedushah, can be recited only in the presence of a Minyan. This rule develops from a Gezeirah Shavah, a contextual connection established between two verses that share a common word or phrase. Here in Parashat Emor the Torah says that God will be sanctified “BeToch Bnei Yisrael,” “among the children of Israel” (ibid.), and later in Parashat Korach we find a similar phrase when Hashem instructs Moshe and Aharon to separate themselves “Mitoch Ha’Eidah HaZot,” “from among [Korach’s] gathering” (BeMidbar 16:21). Since the word “among” appears in both verses, we can apply the context of one to the other; the members of Korach’s group are identified as a gathering, and so Hashem will be sanctified among a gathering as well. Furthermore, the Sages (Megillah 23b) use another Gezeirah Shavah to show that the “gathering” of Korach refers to a group of ten. The group of ten spies who deliver a disparaging report about the land of Israel in Parshat Shelach are called an “Eidah Ra’ah,” “An evil gathering” (BeMidbar 14:27), and so when Hashem calls Korach’s group “Ha’Eidah HaZot,” “This gathering,” it must also refer to a group of ten. All told, the verse “VeNikdashti BeToch Bnei Yisrael” teaches that Hashem will be sanctified among a gathering of ten.

Interestingly, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachot 7:3) employs “VeNikdashti BeToch Benei Yisrael” as part of an entirely different Gezeirah Shavah to demonstrate the same Halachah. In this case, the connecting verse comes from Parashat MiKeitz, when Yaakov’s sons travel to Egypt to buy food during a famine. “VaYavo’u Bnei Yisrael Lishbor BeToch HaBa’im,” “And the children of Israel came to purchase among those who came” (BeReishit 42:5). Again, the Sages point to the recurring word “BeToch” in establishing a contextual parallel between these two verses. Without Yoseif and Binyamin, the children of Israel were a group of ten when they traveled to Egypt “among those who came,” and therefore a group of ten is required in order for God to be “sanctified among the children of Israel.” Thus, the Yerushalmi also maintains that a Minyan is required when reciting Kaddish and Kedushah during prayer.

A compelling theme emerges from this analysis. God said He will be sanctified among the children of Israel, and Chazal forge connections between that statement and three groups of Jews. The first group rebelled against Moshe and the divinely established structure of the priesthood. The word “Mitoch,” “From among,” was part of Hashem’s instruction that Moshe and Aharon step away from Korach’s rebellion while He destroyed them. The next group of Jews spread fear and doubt among the nation through negative reports about the land of Israel. God actually called these spies an “Eidah Ra’ah,” “An evil gathering,” and their sin ultimately led to forty additional years of wandering in the desert. The final group of Jews tried to hide their familial ties by mixing in “BeToch,” “Among,” the crowds. Hoping to avoid suspicion, they separated from each other and entered Egypt through different gates (Rashi ibid. s.v. BeToch HaBa’im). Here, Bnei Yisrael were seemingly afraid to show their unity and strength at a time of uncertainty. All three of these groups display negative or deficient attributes, yet they comprise the framework by which we understand that Hashem is sanctified among the Children of Israel. Clearly, our shortcomings do not negate our significance as a group of Jews. Chazal believe our gathering is inherently valuable to our Creator; He is sanctified by our presence regardless of our actions.

The Torah may be communicating two distinct messages. “VeLo Techalelu Et Sheim Kodshi” teaches us that we must be careful not to disgrace God’s name through our actions. Certainly, our conduct matters, and we must follow Hashem’s Torah. At the same time, “VeNikdashti BeToch Bnei Yisrael,” God is sanctified among His children. At its core, the Mitzvah is a statement about our collective identity as the Am HaNivchar. Together, we reflect the part of Him that lives in us. Thus, any gathering of Jews can be a Kiddush Hashem. Ten rebellious Jews attempting to thwart Torah leadership are still a Minyan. Ten sinful spies who spurn the land that is our home and heritage are still a Minyan. Ten Jews hiding from the truth while scattered among the masses are still a Minyan. Perhaps God is ultimately sanctified by who we are, not what we do.

The loss of innocent Jewish lives is a tragedy beyond measure, and we rightly recognize those whose flames were extinguished among our Kedoshim. While many do not surrender their lives by choice, we believe they enter an exalted gathering through their sacrifice. It is this gathering of heroes who embody the reflection of Godliness that defines a Jew, their memory resting at the heart of our collective identity as B’nei Yisrael. They remind us who we are, and there is no greater Kiddush Hashem.

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