Rav Moshe Twersky zt”l On the Parsha

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By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

ולא תחללו את שם קדשי ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל אני ה’ מקדשכם     כב:לב

Rashi says that lo sechalelu includes “do not do aveiros b’meizid.”  What this means is as the Rambam writes.  TheRambam (hilchos Yesodei Ha’Torah 5:10) says that if someone does an aveirah bi’shat nefesh l’hachis, in flagrant disdain, it is a violation of the of chillul Hashem, and if it is in front of ten people then it’s chillul Hashem b’rabim.  It’s clear from the Rambam that a person can violate chillul Hashem even in private.  If it’s in front of ten Jews then there is another level of chillul Hashem b’rabim, but it’s clear that the essential halacha of chillul Hashem is even if someone is alone. The Rambam continues that if one refrains from doing an aveirah (that is tempting him) without any extraneous motivating factor – not because he is afraid of someone or because he wants honor – rather the only reason he is refraining is because of the Creator of the universe, like the way Yosef ha’tzaddik abstained from aveirah, it is an act of Kiddush Hashem.  So we see from the Rambam that doing a mitzvah or refraining from doing an aveirahpurely l’sheim Shamayim is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem.  Hafleh v’feleh!  There is a Mishna in Avos(4:4) that says “one who does a chillul Hashem in private will be punished in public”.  Many mefarshim grapple with the meaning of chillul Hashem in private.  However, according to the Rambam, there is no difficulty at all and the Mishna is k’pshuto mamash.

Rav Moshe Feinstein said there are certain halachos that one simply must know.  There is no time to go look it up.  For example, when it comes to forgetting yaaleh v’yavoh and the like, you have to know what to do.  Some halachosyou just have to be fluent in them.  Kiddush Hashem as well.  One can never know if he will be suddenly thrust into a situation of Kiddush Hashem.  I am not saying this lightly; I am saying it with full koved rosh.  One can never know.  You think it couldn’t happen today?  It could happen!  A person could be around ten Yidden…and…Rachmana litzlan.

In explaining the obligation of giving up one’s life for Kiddush HashemRashi says that one’s intent must not be that a miracle will be done for him.  The Tashbeitz Katan (415) brings from the Maharam that when one does this – willingly gives up his life when required without any thought that a miracle will happen for him – he will not feel any pain no matter what they do to him.  Like the pasuk says hikuni bal chalisi (Mishlei 23:35).  He drives the point home in an astounding manner from empirical evidence that was quite common in that period of Jewish history which was in the middle of the Crusades.  He says that we see that a person cannot hold himself back from screaming under any circumstances if he puts his finger in a fire; yet our eyes have seen many people who have been killed al Kiddush Hashem and not once did we hear them scream oy or avoy.  Paranthetically, you see from here that the first and most significant proof for something is a source in the Torah.  If you find one that fits with your experience, good.  And if not, reexamine your experience.  Rav Dovid Soloveitchik derived this from the Medrash that says Moshe Rabbeinutold Yehoshua to ask any questions that he may have before Moshe would die, and Yehoshua answered that he does not have any because he learned everything from Moshe and never missed a shiur, as it says in the pasuk that Yehoshua never left the tent of Moshe Rabbeinu.  That’s what the Medrash says.  But what is the pasuk needed for?  They were both there!  Why would Yehoshua have to quote that pasuk to prove to Moshe that he never missed a shiur?  You see that a proof from the Torah is better than any empirical evidence, even if it is your own, first-hand experience!

I saw in a fascinating shailoh in a certain seifer.  If a Goy is coercing a Yid to do an aveirah in front of ten Jews, do we say that one of them should run away so the person won’t have to give up his life?  Regarding the person himself, theRambam is clear that, if he can, he must run away.  In the Rambam there is no optional mesiras nefesh (unlike otherRishonim).  But what about the spectators that form the background of “b’soch Bnei Yisrael”?  It’s an amazingchakirah.  It occurred to me, though, that you could ask this question in the reverse.  If there are only nine, can you call out “a tzenter!”?  Is it assur to do?  Maybe it’s a mitzvah to do.  Is the person being threatened counted as part of the minyan?  That seifer assumes yes, but I was wondering about it.  For sheva brachos, the Gemara says, the chassandoes count as part of the minyan, but for birchas aveilim the aveil does not count as part of the minyan (Megillah23b).  Certainly it seems that someone who is giving up his life for the tremendous mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem is like a chassan, so it would make sense that he is counted as part of the minyan.  Coming back, maybe one should round up a minyan for the opportunity to give up his life al Kiddush Hashem?  In Maggid Meisharim it is recorded that theMalach informed the Beis Yosef numerous times that he is going to merit being killed al Kiddush Hashem. The kashyathat everyone asks is that it didn’t happen.  But what’s relevant to our discussion is that it sounds like he was telling him good news, something to look forward to.  The source for this is Rabi Akiva’s famous statement (Brachos 61b): “My whole life I was waiting for the opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah!”  He was looking forward to it.  Regarding the three cardinal sins of avodah zarah, giluy arayos, and shefichus damim, the obligation to give up one’s life rather than transgress is even if it is in a completely private setting.  Our question pertains to a situation of a Goy wanting to coerce a Jew to violate some other aveirah in public – maaviro al ha’das.  This is where there is room to question if one should deliberately round up a minyan for the opportunity to get this tremendous mitzvah.

Parenthetically, it is very worthwhile mentioning the explanation of the Gra on that Gemara of Rabi Akiva.  When Rabi Akiva’s talmidim asked him “ad kan?”, the general way one understands this question is that it was his equanimity about which they were amazed.  In Biur Aggados, though, the Gra says something astounding.  Two things that are astounding.  He explains that the talmidim were asking Rabi Akiva why he stopped.  The Gemara says that it was the time for saying Shema, so they asked him why he didn’t finish.  It’s his last mitzvah?!  Just this explanation of their question is astounding!  And what’s the answer?  “My whole life I was waiting for the opportunity to do this” – how does that answer their question?  The Gra explains that he wanted to combine the physical action of the mitzvahtogether with reading the pesukim of that mitzvah.  Even though the mitzvah of giving up one’s life for Kiddush Hashem is derived from the words b’chol nafshecha; nevertheless, the primary expression of accepting upon oneselfol malchus Shamayim is the first pasuk of Shema Yisrael.  Therefore, it is that pasuk that primarily embodies the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem.  It is this opportunity, Rabi Akiva explained to his talmidim – to fulfill Kiddush Hashemtogether with the recitation of its source pesukim – that he was waiting for his whole life.  Asiyah v’dibur b’yachad.  When we say Shema with our teffilin on, we are carrying out this concept of having the action of the mitzvah concomitant with the reading of its source pesukim.  Asiyah and kriah together.  We can appreciate what it is that we are doing.  Whenever other opportunities arise to merit doing this, one should look to do so.  For example, the “hareini mechavein l’kayeim mitzvas teffilin” before one puts on his teffilin – wherein one says even just one pasuk – that is probably sufficient to fulfill this concept of combining kriah to asiyah.  Related to this, there’s an amazingRabbeinu Bachayei in parshas Yisro.  He says that when Chazal reveal to us that a certain mitzvah is a segulah for a certain thing, one should not just do the mitzvah and expect the segulah to come; rather, the moments in which the individual is carrying out that mitzvah are opportune to daven for the segulah.  Rabbeinu Bachayei emphasizes that the idea is that one should take advantage of this reality.  This is a source in the Rishonim for the minhag of women todaven to have sons who will be talmidei chachamim when they light Shabbos candles, as the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos says “ha’ragil b’ner havyan lo banim talmidei chachamim.”  This is another reason to say what is printed in the siddurim.  If you go with the siddur you can’t go wrong.  You merit to fulfill tremendous things.  There is a teffilahto say before putting on tzitzis to be saved from the “chitzonim” which is the segulah of this mitzvah, and by teffilinthere is the teffilah (in the “hareini mechavein”) for sanctity of thought which is the segulah of teffilin; as the Rambamsays explicitly that the segulah of teffilin is that a person will have yiras Shamayim.  By saying these supplications, one fulfills two tremendous concepts: combining the action of the mitzvah with enunciating the source pesukim of that mitzvah, and also taking advantage of the eis ratzon to daven for the segulah of that mitzvah.

Another point that is evident from the Rambam regards the facet of sh’as ha’shmad, when there is a governmental decree against fulfillment of the Torah.  Under such circumstances, one must give up his life (even in private) rather than transgress.  It is clear from the Rambam that this applies even to mitzvos asei, positive commandments.  TheRambam says (hilchos Yesodei Ha’Torah 5:4) that there is no optional mesiras nefesh (unlike other Rishonim).  According to the Rambam, if someone gives up his life in a situation that he is not required to do so, it is an aveirahand he will be punished for his own death.  Accordingly, Rabi Akiva was obligated to give up his life.  And what mitzvah was it for which he gave up his life?  Learning Torah.  Likewise, according to the RambamDaniel was obligated to give up his life.  And for what mitzvah?  Teffilah.  Rabi Yehuda ben Bava gave up his life for the mitzvah ofsemicha.  Since the Rambam holds that there is no such thing as voluntary mesiras nefesh, all these examples demonstrate that the obligation to give up one’s life during a sh’as ha’shmad is even for a mitzvas asei.

In Seifer Ha’Mitzvos (asei 9), the Rambam qualifies this mitzvah as being a means of publicizing our emunah.  He writes there that one may not even fool the Goy.  To say “Ok, I accept your religion” while maintaining emunah in Hashem in one’s heart is not acceptable.  One cannot mislead the Goy into thinking that you accepted his avodah zarah.  This is fascinating considering the fact that doing such a thing carries no essential prohibition.  If one davensShmoneh Esrei right in front of an idol, as long as his thoughts are to daven to Hashem, strictly speaking he has not violated any prohibition.  Yes, there is a matter of maris ayin – for which reason the Gemara says that one must not even bend down to pick up one’s item that he dropped if it fell in front of an idol (rather kick it to a different spot and pick it up there) – however, that is only so people should not think that you were doing avodah zarah.  Inherently, though, there is no prohibition of avodah zarah involved in such an act.  As such, it is astounding, at first glance, that the Rambam says that mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem mandates that one give up his life to avoid doing something that otherwise would be classified as maris ayin.  What we see from this is that it is not the inherent severity of the prohibition of avodah zarah that requires one to give up his life; rather it is the mandate of publicizing our emunahthat generates this requirement.

Now, there is a halacha that one is not allowed to declare himself a Goy in order to save his life.  However, one is allowed to say something that could be understood in two ways – like the Gemara’s example of someone who said “I am a servant of fire” and he meant Hashem who is referred to in the Torah as a “consuming fire”, whereas the Goyimto whom he was talking assumed he meant that he is an idolater like them.  Likewise, one is allowed to act in a manner that will lead the Goyim to think that he is a Goy.  It is only an outright declaration that one is obligated to avoid even under threat of death.  The question is, though, why isn’t saying something ambiguous or acting like aGoy not included in that which the Rambam stressed that we cannot even mislead the Goy?  The answer is that it is only when a Goy is trying to coerce you to do or accept avodah zarah and you said or did something that makes him think that he won and managed to force you to give in, that is the qualification of this facet of Kiddush Hashem.  In the situation, though, where the Goy is trying to determine your identity, and you say or do something which is not unequivocal and thus allow him to think that you are a Goy, that is not a situation of him having succeeded in getting you to submit.  There is no confrontation that he won.

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Quote of the Week

“There is nothing wrong with having a good sense of humor.  However, be careful with your jokes even if there is noissur involved, because you don’t want to make your speech cheap.”

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Featured Story

Reb Avrohom, Rav Twersky’s youngest son, once asked his father if he was going to the chasuanah of a grandson of Rav Yisrael Elya Weintraub zt”l – Rav Twersky’s rebbi in Toras Ha’Nistar – out of a sense of hakaras ha’tov to Rav Yisrael Elya, to the family, or to the grandson.  Rav Twersky responded that it was for all three reasons.  “And is it also because Rav Yisrael Elya’s neshama will be there?” asked Reb Avrohom further.  Rav Twersky said, “Also for that reason.”  Later, Reb Avrohom asked his father, “Were you able to feel Rav Yisrael Elya’s neshama there?”  Rav Twersky answered, “The way one can feel such a thing is if thinks about some of that person’s divrei Torah and gains a deeper understanding thereof.  When Reb Avrohom pressed further, Rav Twersky said, “I did get a deeper understanding, but I don’t know if can actually say that I felt him there.”  Reb Avrohom, who got married a number of months after Rav Twersky was murdered, wanted to have an “insurance policy” on his father’s neshama being fully present at his chupah.  So, he asked his brother-in-law, Reb Eliyhau Meir Walder, if he would be willing to undertake the task of thinking about a piece of Torah of Rav Twersky’s and delving into it during the chupah.  The latter enthusiastically agreed.  He prepared a shtikl that he had as yet not been able to understand, to think over at the chupah, and awaited the opportunity.  What R’ Eli was not prepared for, though, is what this would bring about.  Now, mind you, Reb Eliyahu Meir is as “straight and narrow” a Litvak as they come.  There isn’t a spooky or superstitious bone in his body.  While the chupah was taking place, R’ Eli began cogitating the shtikl Torah of his father-in-law that he had prepared for the occasion.  As he was thinking, he indeed merited to understand the piece, and as the concept became clear to him, R’ Eli was overcome by a powerful sense of presence to the point that his whole body began to tremble.

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For more divrei Torah and stories of Rav Twersky zt”l Hy”d visit VayigdalMoshe.com!

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