19 Av 5780 / Sunday, August 09, 2020 | Torah Reading: Eikev
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The Greatest Kiddush Hashem    

The Greatest Kiddush Hashem

Throughout his unbelievable ordeals, which he handled and overcame with incredible calmness and ingenuity, Rav Yitzchak Zilber never gave up his Judaism…


I just finished reading an incredible book. Okay, so I finished it three months ago. But it feels like yesterday, since I’m still so moved by it. It’s called: To Remain a Jew: The Life of Rav Yitzchak Zilber. Rav Zilber lived in Communist Russia, enduring many dark years of scarce food rations, prison sentences, living in constant fear of anti-Semitism, and never knowing if his life was going to continue the next day.


Throughout his unbelievable ordeals, which he handled and overcame with incredible calmness and ingenuity, he never gave up his Judaism. Even when he was forced to teach college-level math and science courses on Shabbat, he always - without fail - managed to come up with some solution to get out of breaking Shabbat without getting caught by the Communists. That was no easy task, because during that time, no one knew who was a secret Communist that would turn his so-called friends in to the government.


His dedication to Judaism got me thinking about the history of the Jewish People. No matter what persecutions they suffered, most Jews still clung to their religion and their observance; even when it meant giving up their lives. It is said that dying as a Jewish martyr is the greatest act of kiddush Hashem, or sanctifying Hashem’s name.


I am in awe of those people. I feel like I am a million spiritual levels below them, which in fact, I probably am. I don’t think I could go through such suffering and live in such horrific conditions and still maintain such strong emuna.


One incident that stood out in the book was when he was being questioned by the KGB for I can’t remember what. First, they spent a long time threatening him. When he didn’t give in, they changed tactics. They decided to be “nice” to him and offer him an easy way out. He didn’t give in this way, either, and I can’t remember what happened after that. I think he was thrown in jail for several years.



Rav Yitzchak Zilber, osb"m:  image below courtesy of By Simonpor - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21030171


Anyhow, this incident made me realize that the yetzer hara (evil inclination) works the same way. Throughout our history, he has used all sorts of terrible tactics, such as pogroms, in order to get us to relinquish our religion and our faith in Hashem. When he saw it didn’t work, he tried a new tactic. I would call this new tactic “The Enlightenment.”


It was a brilliant move by the yetzer. When he saw that he couldn’t get Jews on a large scale to give up their Judaism by being the bad guy, he decided to play nice guy and offer the Jews a new life; a life filled with endless possibilities. So what does this mean for us? How does this tie into the millions of righteous Jews that gave up their lives?


Here’s the answer: before the Enlightenment, the greatest kiddush Hashem a Jew could do was to die because he was Jewish. No doubt, this is still happening today. But after the false values penetrated their poison deep into the Jewish world, many Jews lost their iron-clad connection to Judaism, and subsequently to Hashem. As a result, they chose to live like the rest of the world, casting off their fear of Heaven and the Torah observance that set them apart from everyone else.


Therefore, in our days, I believe that the greatest kiddush Hashem is to live as a Jew! Resisting all of the overwhelming temptations that the secular world has to offer is nearly impossible these days, but it can be done. But that’s just the first level. There is a second level to living al kiddush Hashem.


The essence of living as a Jew is not just living a Torah-observant life, and the secret can be found in the root of the word “Jew.” It shares the same root as “to thank.” Ultimately, then, the greatest kiddush Hashem is gratitude! Thanking Hashem every day, for everything, is the essence of being Jewish! It’s also the best way to connect with Hashem and see His involvement in our lives.


It is said that the Redemption will come by way of emuna. Emuna comes by way of gratitude. Gratitude comes by way of saying “thank you.” Keep these two words on your lips all day long, and you have Rav Shalom Arush’s promise that you will see your own personal redemption! May we all be together to experience our collective Redemption with joy and peace, speedily, Amen!



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