In the Midst of Our People

Parashat Emor 5779

by Meir Sendor

We were in the midst of our Tal Orot training course for meditation teachers Tuesday night, in the meditation room high atop Livnot U’Lehibanot overlooking Mount Meron and the valley of Nachal Amud, when the siren for Yom HaZikkaron sounded. We stopped in mid-sentence and stood in silence for the minute the memorial siren wailed, and then, as the siren of Tzfat trailed off, we could hear the sirens of a dozen other scattered communities still echoing in the night across the valleys and mountains around us, then all trailing off one by one into silence.

The siren of Yom HaZikkaron, the day Israel remembers those who gave their lives in the wars for the independence and defense of our nation and remembers those martyred in terror attacks, is itself a moving experience. The urgent, mournful sound awakens us to remember we are here in our Land because of the self-sacrifice of these heroic and holy men, women and children. To hear the sirens echoing across the Land brings home the sense of community that keeps the memory of these holy ones alive in our hearts.

It says in this week’s parashah:

ויקרא פרק כב פסוק לב

ולא תחללו את שם קדשי ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל אני יקוק מקדשכם:


Do not profane My holy Name, I will be sanctified in the midst of Bnei Yisrael, I am HaShem Who sanctifies you.

This verse is regarded as setting the requirement of a minyan, the presence of ten Jewish men, “in the midst of Bnei Yisrael,” to proclaim the most sacred expressions of tefillah – the Barkhu call to prayer, the Kedushah and the Kaddish. Sanctity occurs in the context of community.

This verse is also as the source for the mitzvah of Kiddush HaShem, of martyrdom when it is necessary, in extreme situations, to stand up for Torah and Israel.  The halakhah is that if forced by an enemy to transgress a Torah prohibition in order to disgrace Torah, for most mitzvot of the Torah, if the situation is public, defined as in the presence of ten Jews, that is, ”in the midst of Bnei Yisrael,” one should be martyred rather than submit. If it is not public, we should transgress and not sacrifice ourselves. For any of the three most egregious transgressions – idolatry, murder or illicit sexuality –  or in a time of intense, widespread persecution, such as the Shoah, under any and all conditions we should give our lives rather than submit. Here, too, the presence of others is part of the condition of holiness.

Even in everyday situations, holiness has to do with others. In the Gemara Yuma there is a discussion about what constitutes a profanation of God’s Name, and what sanctifies it.

  תלמוד בבלי מסכת יומא דף פו עמוד א

היכי דמי חילול השם? אמר רב: כגון אנא. אי שקילנא בישרא מטבחא ולא יהיבנא דמי לאלתר… רבי יוחנן אמר: כגון אנא דמסגינא ארבע אמות בלא תורה ובלא תפילין. יצחק דבי רבי ינאי אמר: כל שחביריו מתביישין מחמת שמועתו…   אביי אמר: כדתניא, ואהבת את ה’ אלהיך – שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך, שיהא קורא ושונה ומשמש תלמידי חכמים, ויהא משאו ומתנו בנחת עם הבריות, מה הבריות אומרות עליו – אשרי אביו שלמדו תורה, אשרי רבו שלמדו תורה. אוי להם לבריות שלא למדו תורה, פלוני שלמדו תורה – ראו כמה נאים דרכיו, כמה מתוקנים מעשיו, עליו הכתוב אומר ויאמר לי עבדי אתה ישראל אשר בך אתפאר. אבל מי שקורא ושונה ומשמש תלמידי חכמים ואין משאו ומתנו באמונה, ואין דבורו בנחת עם הבריות, מה הבריות אומרות עליו – אוי לו לפלוני שלמד תורה, אוי לו לאביו שלמדו תורה, אוי לו לרבו שלמדו תורה, פלוני שלמד תורה – ראו כמה מקולקלין מעשיו וכמה מכוערין דרכיו! ועליו הכתוב אומר באמר להם עם ה’ אלה ומארצו יצאו.


What is an example of profaning God’s Name? Rav said “if someone like me were to take meat from the butcher but not pay immediately”… Rabbi Yochanan said “if someone like me would walk four cubits without Torah and without tefillin.” Yitzchak of the Beit Midrash of Rabbi Yanai said “anything about which one’s comrades would be embarrassed to hear about it.”… Abaye said, as it is taught in a tradition: “you shall love the Lord your God” – that the Name of Heaven should be beloved because of you. If a person reads and studies and serves Torah scholars, and his business dealings with others are pleasant, what do people says about him? “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah, fortunate his teacher who taught him Torah, woe to people who do not learn Torah. So and so who learns Torah, see how pleasant are his ways, how proper his actions. About him the verse says “and He said to me, you are my servant in whom I glory…

In all these cases, holiness and care for others go hand in hand.

Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur, the Sefat Emet, explains that holiness, whether in extreme or in everyday circumstances, has an aspect of giving oneself and going beyond oneself for the sake of others (Emor 5652, 5655). When the verse says “I am HaShem Who sanctifies you,” this means that “the Holy One, blessed be He, has placed holiness in every Israelite soul.” But this holiness can get covered over by materiality. Through intense commitment to Torah learning and mitzvah action and by giving of ourselves for the sake of others, working together in supportive community, we can transcend ourselves and overcome these limitations together, for each other. In this way we bring all Israel together in unity, and through the power of our unity we bring holiness to the whole world. (Emor 5653, 5655). The Sefat Emet cites as support the Zohar on our parashah (3:93b), that says that when Israel leaves Exile and returns in unity to its own Land, “one nation in the Land (2 Sam. 7),” then HaShem will be recognized as One and His Name One. (Zekhariah 14).

On Yom HaZikkaron we remember those who gave their lives for our sake. We are here, in this holy Land, by virtue of their ultimate sacrifice. They share in every mitzvah we have the merit to do here. And when we honor their memories together, all across the Land, echoing across mountains and valleys, we bring holiness to the world. Yom HaZikkaron is followed by Yom HaAtzmaut, “the beginning of the flowering of our redemption,” and the redemption of humanity itself.

At our local shopping center in Tzfat Tuesday evening

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