Leviticus 22:32 briefly mentions the mitzvah to sanctify the name of Hashem. It is interesting to note that the Torah does not explicitly describe the details of this mitzvah, perhaps to prevent individuals from making critical life decisions without consulting with a competent rabbinical authority. The Talmud Sanhedrin 74a and b discusses and specifies when a Jew is required to give his life rather than transgress. The Talmud distinguishes between the three cardinal sins (i.e. idolatry, murder, and forbidden relations) and other Torah prohibitions. (Martyrdom is not required to forego fulfilling a positive commandment (e.g. circumcision or wearing tefillin)). In addition the Talmud makes a distinction between a transgression committed in public (10 or more Jews) or private and between a time of persecution (שעת הגזירה) or not. The Talmud examines the motivation of the oppressor and distinguishes between personal interest (הנאת עצמו) and purposeful transgression of religion (מעבירו על דת).
|1 or more
|No persecution other sins
|10 or more
|Persecution other sins
|1 or more
Deuteronomy 6:5 is the source for the commandment of martyrdom in the face of idolatry. The Torah commands that you love Hashem with all your heart, soul נפשך, and resources. The Talmud (Berachot 54a and Sanhedrin 74a) defines loving Hashem as avoiding idolatry and your soul even in the event of martyrdom. The Talmudic commentaries consider that the love of Hashem should require martyrdom in the face of any transgression. However the Torah also states (Leviticus 18:5) that we should perform the mitzvoth and live by them וחי בהם implying that martyrdom should be avoided. The Talmud reconciles the two verses by stating that all Jews must undergo martyrdom in the face of idolatry and other sins only when derived from other verses, otherwise human life must be preserved. In addition leaders of a generation whose love for Hashem outweighs their own lives may become martyrs to uphold even positive commandments like Rabbi Akiva who taught Torah publicly in the face of decrees of the Roman government (Berachot 61b).
The Talmud deduces the requirement of martyrdom in the face of murder by logic and not a verse. In a pithy manner the Talmud states, “Who is to say that your blood is redder than another?” In effect all lives are valued by Hashem, the giver of life. However a person is not required to sacrifice his life to save another. For example, if two are lost in the desert with only one canteen of water. If both drink from the canteen both will die. However there is sufficient water for one to survive. The Talmud allows the owner of the canteen to drink even though the other will die of thirst (Baba Metziah 62a). We could have argued perhaps the other is more important. Nevertheless one’s life takes priority in a passive situation. Similarly if a non-Jew is planning to kill a Jew, another Jew is not required to risk his life to prevent murder because his own life comes first.
3. Forbidden Relations
The Talmud deduces this requirement from verse Deuteronomy 22:26, comparing the rape of a betrothed girl to a victim of murder. The literal comparison is that both are victims of acts of violence. However the Talmud equates the cases in reference to martyrdom, meaning that one must be prepared to die rather than transgress. Only an active violation requires martyrdom. For example a woman is not required to commit suicide to avoid rape.
Other than the cardinal sins, martyrdom is not required unless the transgression occurs in the presence of 10 Jews and the perpetrator purposely intends the Jew to transgress for religious reasons. The Torah does not directly mention the number of 10. Rather the Talmud derives this number from the second principle of the thirteen principles of the oral law, גזרה שוה, similar words, used in different contexts to elucidate a law. This principle may only be used from a direct tradition originating from Moses out teacher. (It is interesting to note that the gematria of גזרה שוה is 526 is equal to the gematria of the word כדמותנו (our likeness) in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make a man in our image, after our likeness”. This implies that a man worthy of the divine likeness is fit to teach a גזרה שוה. Moreover the first word or phrase in the Torah with a value of 526 is כדמותנו.)
Leviticus 22:32 commands the sanctification of Hashem among (בתוך) the children of Israel. The Talmud Megillah 23b employs a גזרה שוה to link this verse to Numbers 16:21 where Hashem commands Moses and Aaron to separate from the assembly of Korach, הבדלו מתוך העדה, since the form תוך is used in both verses. Again the Torah did not specify the number. The Talmud uses another גזרה שוה to link this verse to Numbers 14:27 where Hashem complains against an evil assembly, לעדה הרעה using the common form עדה. This assembly refers to the 10 spies who brought an evil report against the land of Israel and the declared the impossibility of conquering the land. Hence though this double exposition, the Torah defines בתוך as 10. Again this derivation is not apparent from a direct reading of the verses, implying that only a competent rabbinic authority can render judgements in the area of martyrdom. This derivation of 10 also applies to the number of men for a minyan. (The numerology and significance of 10 applies in many examples throughout the Torah (e.g. 10 sayings of creation (Avot 5:1), 10 plagues, and 10 commandments. For other examples refer to Avot 5:2-7).
It is interesting to note that although the phrase בתוך בני ישראל occurs several times in the Torah the first time this phrase occurs, Exodus 29:45, the Torah states, “I shall rest my presence among the children of Israel…” in reference to the inauguration of the Tabernacle. This phrase implies a direct connection with Hashem thereby establishing a rationale for martyrdom. (Using the hints of the Torah, the first time a word or phrase appears in the Torah conveys a distinct meaning from its context that may be applied to other contexts, similar to גזרה שוה.) In addition this phrase appears twice in Deuteronomy 32:51, referring to the deaths of Moses an Aaron who did not sufficiently sanctify the name of Hashem among the children of Israel, thereby providing a link between sanctification and death.
Martyrdom is not required unless the non-Jew purposely intends the Jew to transgress the Torah. The Talmud does not expound a verse to derive this law. Rather it is self-evident based upon the balance between sanctification of Hashem and protection of life. Since the non-Jew acts out of self-interest and not theological reasons the apparent transgression does not involve desecration of the name of Hashem.
In a time of persecution, שעת הגזירה, every transgression of the Torah is considered a public infraction because Jews must stand strong in the face of persecution and not weaken the resolve of other Jews. However the requirement of purposeful intent of the non-Jew still applies. Furthermore a time of persecution only applies when these actions are directed exclusively against Jews and not other beliefs as well.
Living Sanctification of Hashem
Up to this point the article has focused on martyrdom. However the commandment to sanctify the name of Hashem applies in a positive sense, namely living a life of sanctification. The Talmud Yoma 86a quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, source for martyrdom in the face of idolatry, implies that in addition to loving Hashem, we should strive to make Hashem beloved in the eyes of others, especially in the presence of secular Jews. These people should be so impressed with learned and observant Jews that they say, “Fortunate is the father who taught him Torah, fortunate is the teacher who taught him Torah, and see how pleasant are his ways and actions”. The Talmud quotes Isaiah 49:4, “Israel my servant in whom I am glorified, עבדי אתה ישראל אשר בך אתפאר”.
(It is interesting to note that the gematria of עבדי is the same as the name of the Lord, אלקים implying that a true servant of the Lord can reach “divine like” heights though his godly soul. In addition the first time the word עבדי appears in the Torah as a reference to a servant of Hashem (Numbers 12:7) refers to Moses, “My servant Moses … the trusted one”. This verse shows the high regard of Moses in the eyes of Hashem and provides us a role model to emulate.)
The commandment to sanctify the name of Hashem may entail martyrdom under strict halahic guidelines as explained above. In addition this commandment applies to all Jews to sanctify His name by their daily activities, especially when interacting with people unfamiliar with Judaism, either secular Jews or non-Jews, to glorify His name.