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Parshat Emor (5769)

This week's Torah portion contains 63 commandments. One of them is not to defile G-d's name and the other is to sanctify G-d's name. And both of them are derived from the same sentence.

"Don't profane My Holy Name and I will be sanctified within the Jewish people." (22:32)…

What exactly is G-d's name? And how is it possible to profane or sanctify it? Isn't G-d infinite and Holy far above our ability to add or subtract?

To understand this here is a story that was told by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the 13th Nisan 5745 ('Ma Sh'sipair Li HaRebbe vol. 2 pg 55).

Everyone has heard of Romanoff dynasty of Russian Czars but few have heard of a far greater line of kings that ruled in Russia in those times; the Chabad Rebbes.

While the Czars represented only themselves and claimed to rule Russia, the Rebbes (all direct descendents of King David) represented the Creator and King of the entire Universe.

And there were times when the two kings met in battle.

For instance when the third Chabad Rebbe; Menachem Mendel (nicknamed 'The Tzemach Tzedik') decided to save the 'Cantonists' from the clutches of the Russian Orthodox Church and to save Jewish education from the clutches of the 'Maskilim'.

Who were the Cantonists and who were the Maskilim?

Czarist Russia was, arguably, the most totally and fanatically religious country in history. Everyone, including intelligentsia, government officials, and the royal family, was devoutly and insanely Russian Orthodox. So it wasn't a surprise that they threw themselves wholeheartedly in 'weaning' Jews from Judaism.

One way they tried to do it was through the army. Young Jewish boys were snatched from their homes at the age of ten or even less and 'trained' to be 'good' Russian soldiers i.e. with no Judaism. These soldiers became known as Cantonists.

The cruel program never really worked totally but it lasted some fifty years before it was dropped and resulted in large numbers of soldiers who were fiercely loyal to the Czar but nevertheless still aware of some Jewish identity.

Simultaneously there was another enemy of Judaism; the Maskilim. These were assimilated Jews who had chosen to 'illuminate' as many of their brethren as possible into progressive world of the gentiles and away from the Torah and its commandments.

Their main battlefield was Jewish Torah schools where they all too often succeeded in posing as religious teachers only to poison the minds of their unsuspecting pupils.

But occasionally they tried their hands at government levels as well; attempting to convince the Czar or one of his ministers to secularize or even totally outlaw Jewish education.

One year they succeeded in convincing the government to pass such a series of laws and the Tzemach Tzedik was called by the other Chassidic Rabbis of Russia to plead their case in Petersburg to the higher government ministers and convince them that such a plan would never work.

In the course of the several weeks that the Rebbe was there he was put under house arrest some twenty times for defying court procedure, disrespecting the judge, refusing to agree with the government and more, but miraculously his self-sacrifice paid off and he was successful.

It just so happened that near Petersburg was a fortified city by the name of Kronshtot which was the site of a huge army base of several thousands of soldiers. And a few hundred of them were Cantonists.

Although these soldiers had almost no connection to Judaism, except for a few Hebrew prayers some of them knew by rote. Nevertheless, when they heard that the famous Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch was in close proximity something pushed them to request from their officers to invite him to speak.

It's not too clear why but the officers passed the request up to their general who passed to Minister of War and, to their amazement, he agreed!

Some say he hoped to influence the Rebbe to agree to some of their demands and soften his uncompromising stand on genuine Jewish education.

But, as we will see, they were wrong.

The Minister of War passed the request to the Minister of the Interior who sent an official entourage to the Rebbe in Petersburg to invite him.

The Rebbe agreed and, sure enough, a month later the Rebbe with an impressive entourage of over fifty Chassidim was entering the gates of the fortress.

He was taken to a large auditorium where several hundred Jewish soldiers from the infantry, navy and cavalry had been gathered and said before them a Chassidic discourse about the importance of 'returning' to G-d and observing His commandments.

He then quoted and explained in Russian, several sayings of the Talmud about the importance of self-sacrifice for the Torah.

The Rebbe finished his talk by telling them that although they were in exile from the Holy Land until Moshiach brought them back, nevertheless it was their obligation to pray for the welfare of Russia and its leaders while they were there.

A while later, when the Rebbe successfully finished his work in Petersburg the soldiers somehow got wind of his plans to return home to Lubavitch and made a second request to their officers. They wanted to hear the Rebbe again and thank him for the trouble he had taken for them.

Again their officers agreed. But this time when they went to the Rebbe to convey the soldiers' request they added a warning. They informed him that his previous speech had caused quite a stir among the soldiers and that he better not do it again. One more incendiary word and he would be in danger.

Six hundred soldiers were gathered in a large open square in Petersburg and listened in silence as the Rebbe spoke.

Again the Rebbe said a Chasidic discourse but this time he finished with the following words: "If ever anyone tries to force any Jew to change their religion and deny Judaism, G-d forbid, then that Jew is obligated to actually give his life rather than give in! Even if the King himself demands that you leave Judaism you must sacrifice your life rather than listen to him."

The Rebbe asked the soldiers to advertise his words, blessed them and bade them farewell.

The soldiers were deeply affected by these words but, being that the only connection most of them had to Judaism were no more than vague memories of their parents, there was little chance that the effect would last.

Five years later the entire camp was on its feet; for weeks they had been cleaning, painting and polishing every corner of the fortress in preparation for the ultimate honor. His glorious majesty; the Czar HIMSELF with his royal honor guard and the highest ministers in Russia were coming for an official visit to their camp!

It is hard for us today to imagine the awe, fear and trepidation the very mention of the Czar's name evoked in the heart of every Russian soldier, how much more so a visit from the Czar HIMSELF! The soldiers were in a frenzy.

When the Czar finally arrived the trumpets blared, the band began to play, thousands of soldiers from all branches of the Czars armies stood at attention in shining uniforms holding colorful banners. Then suddenly thirty or so chosen soldiers stepped forward and began to dance and do acrobatic feats before His Majesty.

The Czar was enthralled. He turned to the various ministers at his right and left, a broad smile of contentment on his face, nodding and raising his hands with approval as the soldiers flipped in the air and lifted heavy burdens.

"Who are these men?" He asked the commander of the base, "What are their names?"

The commander raised his hand, they stopped their performance, stood in a line before the Czar, sweating and trying to catch their breaths and he read off their names.

As he read, the Czar's smile faded into a frown, his body stiffened, he leaned forward and hissed "Why, those are Jewish names! Jews!!"

He straightened up, tried to regain his composure but did not succeed… he simply could not control his anger and disappointment. He scanned the soldiers and announced out loud. "Here, sitting with us here is a priest. I command you, all of you, to change your names and your religion …. NOW!"

The soldiers glanced briefly at one another, briefly behind them, and then straightened their gaze and stood at stiff attention. One stepped forward, saluted the Czar and spoke.

"Your majesty! Five years ago the Rebbe of Lubavitch visited here. He told us that it is forbidden for us to change our religion even if the Czar personally demands it. He said we must sacrifice our lives rather than do that."

And saying this they all turned around, ran as fast as possible to the bridge behind them, climbed over the rail and gracefully dived into the churning river… never to return alive.

When the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, told this story he explained that there are two miraculous details in this sad story. First, that they remembered what the Rebbe said five years earlier. And second, that it affected them so deeply that they actually gave their lives!

This answers our questions.

G-d created the world with His words or His names.

That's why we can't see or feel there is a Creator. Because, just as when a person speaks words from, for instance, behind a wall we can hear but not see him…. so too G-d's speech (i.e. nature) conceals the speaker (G-d) from us.

But a name is different; when we call someone's name it causes the person to respond and reveal himself.

So it's up to us.

Profaning G-d's name means to treat creation like, at best, His word; making the universe (us included) seem profane and empty (the word for Profane 'Chalal' also means 'empty).

Just as those soldiers in our story, before the Rebbe spoke to them.

But 'Sanctifying' G-d's name means seeing and revealing the Creator in every aspect of the creation … Just like a NAME reveals the one who is being called.

As the Cantonists did after the Rebbe spoke to them.

The lesson here is… the future of the world is in our hands. We can treat it as nature; G-d's word… or as miracles; G-d's name.

That will be the job of Moshiach which has been begun by the Chassidic writings of Chabad and others.

Moshiach will reveal that the world and, even more so the Torah, is G-d's name …….. and that G-d and His NAME are one.

It's up to us to do all we can to even one more good deed to bring....

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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