Perhaps one of the most all-encompassing statements of what it means to be Jewish is to be a Kiddush Hashem – a living embodiment of God’s name in this world. Taken from a verse in this week’s parsha, “I shall be sanctified in the midst of the Jewish people,” this mandate is wide and deep.
Kiddush Hashem refers to public behaviour that brings pride to the Jewish people, and, consequentially, God: to act in public in a kind, dignified and honest manner, with the awareness we are both in the presence of others and of God.
Our sages define two very specific manifestations of Kiddush Hashem. It includes the prosaic, daily public declarations of God’s holiness, such as in the prayers known as Kedushah and Kaddish. But in its extreme, martyrdom – dying because you are Jewish – is the ultimate Kiddush Hashem. It is rare a single mitzvah carries with it so much weight, yet also seems pedestrian. Kiddush Hashem includes the martyrs of the Holocaust, yet also quietly returning a lost object that could have been easily kept. It includes Jews who gave their lives while in prayer in shul, and also public acts of prayer. The paradox is palpable.
Perhaps the answer is in the verse’s precise wording: it is not a command given actively, but passively. For many, choices will be small-scale, interacting with individuals, bringing light in micro-interactions that make the world a better place. For others, God presents them with a grander, and perhaps the ultimate challenge. We can’t control everything and everyone. How we respond is what matters, and we let God take care of the rest.
- Rabbi Garry Wayland is a teacher and educator for US Living and Learning