Our Table Welcome to Our Shabbos Table
Welcome to our Shabbos Table!
We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parshas Emor/ Sanctifying Hashem’s Name
“You shall not desecrate My holy name; I shall be sanctified amidst the Children of Israel; I am
Hashem, who sanctifies you” (Vayikra 22:32).
Parshas Emor opens with a long list of laws pertaining to the Kohanim, who, because they served in the Mishkan (and later in the Beis HaMikdash), were to conduct themselves with utmost sanctity. Lest we think holiness is reserved for these officials, Hashem then states that He has sanctified the entire Jewish people and that we should act accordingly, sanctifying His name.
Practically speaking, what constitutes a kiddush Hashem, and what is a chillul Hashem? Chazal provide some basic guidelines.
Walk It Like You Talk It
The Torah commands us, “And you shall love Hashem, your God” (Devarim 6:5). The Gemara (Yoma 86a) explains: Not only should we personally love Hashem, we should inspire others to love Him as well. How? “By learning Torah and dealing pleasantly with others. What do people say of someone like this? ‘Fortunate is his father, who taught him Torah. Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah. Woe to those who haven’t learned Torah. As for this person who did learn Torah, look how beautiful his conduct is! How refined his deeds!’
“However,” Chazal continue, “if one learns Torah but cheats others and deals with them unpleasantly, what do people say of him? ‘Woe to this person who learned Torah. Woe to his father, who taught him Torah. Woe to his teacher who taught him Torah. As for this person who learned Torah, look how perverse his deeds are, and how ugly his conduct.”
A Torah student who is refined and pleasant is a walking kiddush Hashem. If he is rude, coarse, or dishonest, God forbid, his knowledge of Torah only compounds the disgrace, because he should know better.
No Middle Ground
Based on this Gemara, there are only two options: Either we make a kiddush Hashem through our
behavior, or, God forbid, we cause a chillul Hashem.
Life constantly challenges both our middos and our principles as Torah Jews. Will we make the extra effort to be polite, dignified, and helpful – even under pressure, and even when those around us lower their standards? Will we be strictly honest and conscientious with our employers, employees, friends, and clients, even when we could easily get away with less? All this and more is what the Torah expects of us; upholding these values sanctifies Hashem’s name.
Rabbi Yosef Wallis, director of Arachim (an Israeli outreach organization), spoke to Project Witness (a Holocaust educational initiative) about his father, Judah Wallis, who survived Dachau:
One day, a fellow inmate being taken to his death suddenly flung a small bag at my father. He caught it, thinking it might contain a piece of bread. Inside, however, was a pair of tefillin. My father was terrified: If caught with tefillin, he would be put to death instantly! So he hid them under his shirt.
The next morning in his bunkhouse, my father put on the tefillin. Unexpectedly, a German officer appeared. He ordered him to remove the tefillin, noted the number on my father’s arm, and ordered him to go straight to roll call.
During roll call, in front of thousands of silent Jews, the officer called out my father’s number, leaving him no choice but to step forward. The officer waved the tefillin in the air. “Dog!” he sneered. “I sentence you to death by public hanging for wearing these.”
My father was placed on a stool, and a noose was slipped around his neck. “Dog!” repeated the Nazi. “What is your last wish?”
“To wear my tefillin one last time,” he replied.
Dumbfounded, the officer handed him the tefillin. As my father put them on, he recited the verses that are said as the tefillin are wound around the fingers: “I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy. And I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, and you shall know Hashem” (Hoshea 2:21–22).
It’s hard for us to picture this atrocity: a Jew with a noose around his neck, wearing tefillin on his head and arm. But that was the scene that the entire camp was compelled to watch. Even women from the adjoining camp were lined up at the barbed-wire fence that separated them from the men’s camp, forced to witness this horrible sight.
As Judah turned to the silent crowd, he saw tears in many people’s eyes. How did they still have tears left to shed? he wondered. And for a stranger? Where were those tears coming from? Impulsively, he called out in Yiddish, “Yidden, don’t cry! With these tefillin, I’m the winner!”
The officer understood the Yiddish and was infuriated. “Hanging is too good for you!” he sputtered to my father. “You’re going to suffer an even worse death.”
The noose was removed, and my father was forced to squat. Two huge rocks were wedged under his arms.
He was to receive twenty-five lashes to his head — the head on which he had dared to position his tefillin. If he dropped even one rock, he’d be shot immediately. “Drop the rocks now,” his executioner advised him. “You’ll never survive the lashes. Nobody ever does.’
“No,” said my father. “I won’t give you the satisfaction.”
At the twenty-fifth lash, Judah Wallis lost consciousness and was left for dead. He was about to be dragged to a pile of corpses and burned in a ditch. But another Jew saw him, shoved him to the side, and covered his head with a rag, so the Nazis wouldn’t realize he was alive. Eventually, when he came to, he crawled to the nearest bunkhouse and hid under it.
Two months later he was liberated.
After liberation, a seventeen-year-old girl made her way to the men’s camp and found my father. “I’ve lost everyone,” she told him. “I don’t want to be alone. I saw what you did that day when the officer wanted to hang you. Will you marry me?”
The rest is history. The couple asked the Klausenberger Rebbe to perform the wedding ceremony. The Rebbe, whose own kiddush Hashem is legendary, wrote out a kesubah by hand from memory. This precious document remains in Rabbi Yosef Wallis’ possession to this day.
Judah Wallis’ love of Torah and Jewish pride sanctified Hashem’s name. This kiddush Hashem led to his own kiddushin, his marriage. Just as Hashem had betrothed him – and vice versa – he was privileged to betroth his own bride.
Question for Discussion:
Not every sanctification of Hashem’s name is as dramatic as Judah Wallis’. What’s a kiddush Hashem that you’ve witnessed, heard about, or been involved with?