This week’s Torah portion, Emor, contains the mitzva (commandment) of kiddush Hash-m – the sanctification of G-d’s name: “You shall not profane My holy name, so that I may be sanctified among the children of Israel.”
A Jew must give up his life rather than deny G-d. Sacrificing one’s life for the sake of G-d causes His name to be sanctified throughout the world.
There are actually two types of kiddush Hash-m.
The first is when a Jew is willing to give up his life but a miracle occurs and he does not die, and the second is when he is actually put to death.
Our Sages disagree as to which level constitutes a greater sanctification of G-d’s name.
The great scholar and codifier, Moses Maimonides maintains that the main part of the mitzva is actually giving up one’s life, thereby publicly demonstrating the extent of the Jew’s unshakable faith in G-d.
However, the Midrash (Torat Kohanim) maintains that when a Jew is willing to sacrifice his life and he is saved by a Divine miracle, G-d’s name is sanctified even more. In such a case, not only does everyone recognize the Jew’s absolute devotion, but G-d’s Hand is openly revealed.
Moreover, according to the Midrash, the person whose life has been saved has an additional merit.
To illustrate, the Midrash cites two examples of kiddush Hash-m, that of Chanania, Mishael and Azaria, who agreed to be thrown into the fiery furnace but were saved by a miracle, and that of two Jews by the names of Papus and Lulyanus.
“You are from the same nation as Chanania, Mishael and Azaria!” Maryanus told Papus and Lulyanus. “Let your G-d come and save you just as He did them!”
Papus and Lulyanus replied, “But they were righteous Jews and Nebuchadnezzar was worthy of witnessing a miracle. You, however, are an evil man, and we ourselves are worthy of death in any event because of our sins.”
From this it seems that when G-d performs a miracle and a Jew’s life is saved, that person possesses a great merit. The sanctification of G-d’s name is therefore also commensurately greater.
However, both Maimonides and the Midrash agree that a Jew must never seek to sacrifice his life thinking that he will be miraculously rescued.
For Maimonides, this is because being saved at the last second detracts from the sanctification of G-d’s name; for the Midrash, this is because “He who gives up his life with the intent of being saved by a miracle does not merit one.” Relying on a miracle to occur actually prevents it from happening.
In the merit of learning these laws may we see the fulfillment of the verse, “My Great Name will be sanctified…and all nations will know that I am G-d” with the final Redemption.