Parasha R’eh

Sanctifying G-d’s Name The parasha for this week, R’eh, begins with Moses telling the Israelites that G-d has placed before them a choice. Do they want to live a life of blessings and prosperity? Or, do they wish to live lives that are cursed?  If one wishes to be blessed, one must follow the commandments which G-d places before us in the Torah. As we know, there are six hundred and thirteen commandments in the Torah. The sages realized that following all of the commandments is a monumental task. So, the Talmud tells us, King David came along and reduced that number to eleven.  Isaiah came along and reduced that number to six.  Micah reduced them to three, and Isaiah reduces them again, to two!  Finally, the prophet Habbakuk reduces them to one—ve-tsadik beemunato yichyeh – “The righteous shall live by his faith”. I would agree with you if you think that that is more than a little vague.  That is why I want to introduce to you tonight the concept of Kiddush HaShem.  Kiddush HaShem means, literally, the sanctification of G-d’s name.  It is most closely associated in our tradition with martyrdom.  But one does not have to die for G-d to sanctify G-d’s name. We can, and do sanctify G-d in living as well. The concept of Kiddush HaShem calls upon us to live our lives in a way which reflects positively on God, on our tradition, and on our people. It challenges us to do our best to avoid embarrassing or destructive behavior that would reflect badly on both Israel's God and on our fellow Jews.   So as we go through life, that is what we should remember we are here to do.  Sanctify and honor God, and not cause God any embarrassment.                 So, how do we do this? The past two weeks there were two extra-ordinary examples of Kiddush Hashem that made the headlines.  One was related to a triumph, and one was related to a tragedy.  Yet each can be instructive in how we might live our lives sanctifying G-d’s name.                 I was watching the Olympics one evening when one of the gymnasts on the American team by the name of Alexandra Raisman began her floor exercise.  I thought she might be Jewish from her name, but when she accompanied her performance to Hava Nagilah I was sure of it.  I excitedly went to the internet to confirm this, and, afterward, I had my favorite Olympic athlete to root for!  G-d bless her, she won two gold medals and a bronze in the Olympics. But, more important than winning, she was also sanctifying G-d’s name. Why is this a good example of Kiddush HaShem?  First, it was the music she chose.  When asked later about the choice, she simply responded, “I am Jewish, and that’s why I wanted that floor music.”  In other words, “I wanted that music because it expresses who I am, and being Jewish is a large part of that equation.”  Allie Raisman did not feel she had to sacrifice or downplay her Jewish identity in order to compete and achieve at the highest levels of her chosen field. Secondly, in an interview afterward, she connected the music she chose with the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes. “Having that music wasn’t intentional,” she explained, “but the fact that it was on the 40th anniversary is special….I would have stood if there was a moment of silence in their memory”.  In saying this, she wasn’t trying to stir up controversy or criticize the Olympic committee. But when asked about it, she answered simply and directly.  In doing so, she brought honor to her country and to her religion, and that is Kiddush Hashem. The second example of Kiddush HaShem occurred the very same week.  Dr. Donald Liu, a University of Chicago pediatric surgeon, 50 years old and the father of three children, drowned in Lake Michigan trying to save two children who were caught in a rip tide. The children made it to shore safely.  Dr. Liu was an accomplished and much beloved and respected physician who worked one day a week at Edward Hospital in Naperville.  I have to tell you, it is the kind of tragedy that leaves you shaking your head wondering why G-d didn’t save this man, who was beloved by his patients and who saved the lives of so many others. The day after the original article appeared in the Tribune, another article was published. There was a picture of Dr. Liu with his wife and three daughters.  His oldest daughter, 13, was wearing a tallis. Dr. Lui was wearing a yalmulke.  It was the family bat mitzvah picture, which the family had celebrated several months before. The article noted that Dr. Liu had converted to Judaism years before.    In most cases where a prominent person dies, the newspaper uses a picture from their news file. I imagine the family had to make a special request to use the bat mitzvah picture. In this way, I felt, the family was honoring Judaism as much as they were honoring their husband and father.  They were bringing praise not only upon Dr. Lui, but they chose to use the occasion to honor G-d and the Jewish people.  In all our endeavors, in all our relationships with others, we must always act in a way that demonstrates Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God's Name. We want others to look at us and say, not only, “there goes a fine person” but also, “there goes a person who is a blessing to the Jewish people and to G-d.” We need not be heroes to practice Kiddush HaShem.  In countless ways in our daily lives we can find ways that bring honor to ourselves, to the Jewish people, and to G-d. Shabbat Shalom