Wednesday, Aug 10, 2022

Kiddush Hashem: The Purpose of Our Lives

For various reasons, I found myself speaking in a number of yeshivos over the past few weeks. Some asked me for a topic; others were content with something on the parsha or closest Yom Tov looming ahead. Since the “topics people” seemed the majority, I thought quite a bit about what I would like say to a somewhat captive audience of yeshiva bochurim. Someone at the first yeshiva was kind enough to remember an old column of mine and asked me to elaborate. This resulted in a rousing discussing (read: argumentative debate) about making a kiddush Hashem in our days. The following is a rendition of some of my remarks and even the negative reactions of the naysayers. Without plunging too deeply into the current debate about yeshiva bochurim and such challenges as how to conduct oneself during bein hazemanim, I found a fertile and important subject for bochurim and perhaps the rest of us as well.

I would like to give much credit here to Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, whose incredibly prolific canon of seforim has provided many stories and piskei halacha for this subject. First of all, he reminds us of a surprising fact about kiddush Hashem. It need not have an audience, and often, things done in total privacy are also considered a kiddush Hashem. He offers a proof from a recently read posuk. The Torah tells us that when Yaakov and Yosef meet after their 22-year mutually agonizing separation, Yaakov Avinu was reciting Krias Shema. Responding to the famous query about why Yosef was not also saying Krias Shema, Rav Zilberstein brilliantly answers the following:

Chazal teach us that one of the pesukim in Krias Shma – love Hashem bechol nafshecha – refers to the situation where noteles nafshecha, one is prepared to give up his life for Hashem. Now, Yaakov Avinu was in a state of spiritual deprivation during those years. The Shechinah was not appearing or speaking to him as in the past, presumably because he was not quite in a state of abject joy and so was not capable of a prophetic vision. Being willing to give up his life in such a condition is not a great sacrifice and does not receive the ultimate divine recognition, and is therefore not a perfect example of total self-sacrifice. However, at the moment of Yaakov and Yosef’s reunion, Yaakov felt the surge of joy that would once again allow the Shechinah to return. He seized the opportunity to accept the yoke of heaven once again with complete devotion, ready to offer up his very life.

Rav Zilberstein points out that this dynamic process was taking place completely below any human radar and was only perceived by the Creator. Yet, it was considered kiddush Hashem of the highest order. Thus, we have proven that even the greatest of kiddush Hashem actions can be totally private, with little if any reference to the reactions of others.

An incredible example of this may be seen in a story about Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach. Someone wished to speak with him urgently and thus davened with him in yeshiva. Davening was over at 8 a.m. and the visitor assumed that the rosh yeshiva would grab a quick breakfast and then begin the meeting. Instead, Rav Shach said kindly, “Let’s talk now.” The young man from America didn’t want to prevent the elderly gadol from eating, so he excused himself for a moment and ran to consult one of the senior members of the yeshiva for guidance.

“What should I do?” the perturbed man queried. “I do want to speak with the rosh yeshiva, but not at the expense of forcing him to fast today. I know that he will be giving a shiur soon and I will be causing him to refrain from eating until noon or later.”

The member of the hanhalah answered with a knowing smile. “You are a stranger here, so you apparently are not aware that the rosh yeshiva never eats at this hour, so you have nothing to worry about. Go ahead with your meeting.”

Now puzzled, the man inquired about the rosh yeshiva’s strange schedule. “Let me explain,” the Ponovezher resident continued. “The rosh yeshiva cannot bring himself to eat at this hour, because across Eretz Yisroel busses carrying children from non-religious homes are arriving at state-run schools. They will be learning subjects fraught with heresy and sarcasm toward the Torah. They know nothing about Hashem and His Torah, and cannot even recite Krias Shema or Shemoneh Esrei. The rosh yeshiva cannot bring himself to eat at a time like this.”

Although few around the world were aware of this profound love and concern for irreligious children, Rav Shach’s caring constituted a kiddush Hashem of the highest proportion.

Reb Shraga Feivel Frank was a devout businessman in pre-war Europe who merited having such sons-in-law as Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Etz Chaim and author of Even Ha’azel, and Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Slabodka and author of Levush Mordechai. He was known as a paragon of integrity and was respected by Jew and gentile alike. One day, he was walking across a bridge and noticed a depressed man looking like he was going to jump. “What’s wrong?” he kindly inquired. The man explained that he was destitute, but had obtained a loan of 25 rubles, a large sum in those days. “I was about to repay my debts and start fresh when I realized that I had lost the package. I can’t go on any longer.” Reb Shraga Feivel asked him to describe the package and responded. “My friend, you are in great luck today. I found your money and was about to look for the owner. You have described your loss perfectly, so I am prepared to return it to you. Here are your 25 rubles. Now go take care of your debts.”

A few moments later, the man was chasing Reb Shraga Feivel down the road. “Hey, you why did you deceive me? I just remembered where I had put the money. It was never lost and you must have given me your own money.”

Reb Shraga Feivel merely smiled and accepted the package with the rubles. As he later explained to someone who discovered the private kiddush Hashem, “I once learned that there is no prohibition of lo seichoneim when there is a potential for a kiddush Hashem.”

Rav Shlomo Lorencz, the long-standing Agudas Yisroel representative in the Knesset, was introduced to President Harry Truman when he was in the United States. The president told him of studying the Bible with his father, who taught him that King Cyrus of Persia had built the Temple for the Jews. Mr. Truman was later a young Shabbos goy in a Jewish home, where they treated him very well and served him portions of the delicious Shabbos foods. Later, when he had the opportunity, he fulfilled his father’s teachings and his own gratitude by recognizing the State of Israel immediately upon its birth in 1948. The Jewish family knew nothing of the kiddush Hashem they had made and its potential impact upon Klal Yisroel.

A little Bnei Brak chareidi boy boarded a bus and asked the driver to stamp his card twice, doubling his payment. “Why?” the driver asked. The little bochur answered sweetly that the day before, he had stayed on board longer than he had intended and so was paying the next day.” He, too, didn’t think of kiddush Hashem, only of doing what is right and not transgressing the prohibition of geneivah.

More recently, because of the laws of Shmittah, a man emptied his crops onto the public thoroughfare, so that all could benefit, but he also left quite a mess. A frum Jewish woman cleaned it up in the middle of the night to prevent a beautiful mitzvah from turning into a public chillul Hashem. Kiddush Hashem accomplished, although no one was there to record the deed.

We should try to teach these incidents and sentiments to all our children, grandchildren and students, so that kiddush Hashem and avoidance of its opposite become ever more part of the DNA of every Jew. The pictures and sight of another young man caught being used as a “mule” or transport for illegal merchandise should be stamped out forever, if at all possible.

A kollel member in one of the outlying cities of Eretz Yisroel hit a parked car’s fender by accident. He laboriously wrote out his address and phone number, describing the damage and promising to pay upon request. The next day, there was a knock at his door. He opened up to find a tall non-religious Jew who immediately snapped a picture. “Shalom, my friend,” the kollel yungerman said with a smile. “Why are you taking my picture?”

“Are you the one who left me the note promising to pay for the damage to my car?” he asked in response.

“Yes, of course, I am so sorry, but why the picture?”

The response should be shared with every yeshiva boy and girl. “I didn’t believe that there is such a person on earth. I thought that this must be a scam or television prank. Now that I see that you are in earnest, I must keep this as a record that there are actually people in the world such as you.”

The yungerman explained that he had learned that this was the halacha and did no more than required of a decent Jew. They exchanged money and pleasantries and the excited man left.

Just a few months later, there was another knock on the door. The man had returned with his wife, who was wearing a full tichel. “I went home and told my wife the story. We talked and thought, and finally decided. Yours is the life for us. We went to the local rov, who gave us guidance on how to be chozer b’teshuvah. We just wanted to thank you.

New friends, kiddush Hashem recorded for posterity.

Somehow, along with all the other wonderful Torah teachings we pass along to the younger generation, we must try a bit harder to inculcate the ultimate lesson, that we were put on earth to be marbeh kevod Shomayim, whenever we can.

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