Sanctifying G-d's Name
Rabbi Israel Chait - transcribed by student

Sources: Maimonides - Mishna Torah - Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah Chapter 5

In chapter 5, Maimonides discusses the laws relating to sanctifying and degrading God's name. These laws are placed right in the middle of the laws regarding the fundamentals of Judaism, of our faith. The question one must ask oneself is why is this here? If these laws are important enough to be included in this set of laws, why not make it the last chapter? If these laws aren't important enough why not put them in another set of laws elsewhere?
If we notice, there are only two commandments in this set of laws. They are; sanctification of God's name and the prohibition of erasing one of God's 7 holy names. Maimonides should have put the philosophy of Judaism at the
beginning and made these laws the last chapter of this section. However, as the Rambam says elsewhere there is a reason for the order of the chapters. Meaning to say that the order helps to give an insight into the commandment
and that section of law.
One concept regarding the commandments is that the same commandment can be done by a prophet and also by a regular person. However, the nature of the fulfillment of this action, of this commandment, is vastly different. The prophet's fulfillment is on a greater plane than that of the ordinary person's, since the prophet has greater insight and knowledge into not only the entire system of Torah and commandments, but also of God. However, commandments are done to perfect the people. And no one is able to escape this. Even Moshe Rabbeinu, the father of all prophets, the greatest person to ever live, did commandments to perfect himself. The Torah tells us this by "And he separated three cities" (Deuteronomy).
The organization of the chapters of Maimonides is based on the highest level of observance of the commandment. This commandment is the hardest for a person to fulfill and is placed here in terms of the highest level of keeping the commandment.
There are two levels a person is able to keep this commandment on. The first is the level an ordinary person keeps it on. Namely because he believes in Torah and certain emotional convictions will cause him to keep the commandment (i.e. give up his life). The second is done because of the highest level of human being. Namely due to a person's understanding of God, his knowledge of God. For the first person it is a tremendous struggle to fulfill the commandment. For the second person, however, it is easy. For instance Rabbi Akiva hoped that one day he'd be able to fulfill the commandment. Not everyone is able to keep this commandment to the highest degree.
This is why Maimonides puts this commandment here. In order to fulfill the commandment on it's highest level of observance you must have a clear understanding of what God is (to the extent a human being is able to have). When you do have this knowledge, you are able to keep this commandment to the highest degree. That is why it is put in this section and in the middle. The first chapters all dealt with God. Now that the scholar knows what God
is he is able to give up his life for that concept.
This is why the language is "...sanctifying this great name..." The word this ("hazeh" in hebrew) is superfluous. It should have read "sanctifying the great name of Hashem". The word 'this' teaches us it must be for the
proper idea of God, the God of creation, the God of the Jews and not just any concept of God that a person might have. This commandment is the embodiment of this idea.
What does Maimonides mean when he says "All the house of Israel"? Why not just say "everyone of Israel"? Maimonides is teaching us an idea here. That this commandment, in it's present form, didn't come about until the Torah was given at Sinai and we became the Jewish nation. Up until that point whoever sanctified God's name did it only as an individual. Today the fulfillment of this commandment is through a national means. That whenever a single Jew gives up his life it isn't as a person who believes in God but as a member of this nation that keeps God's ways. This is what is taught to us in the prophets. They teach us the purpose and benefit of commandments and the philosophy of Judaism and not how to do the commandments. They teach us kabballah, knowledge only attainable through prophecy.
When Maimonides explains his understanding of kabballah in the third book of the Guide for the Perplexed, he explains that he isn't sure if he is correct since he lacks the intermediary of the knowledge. He didn't have the unbroken chain of these ideas from the prophets. He had to go by himself back to the works of the prophets in order to try to gain these ideas.
The nation of Israel is a vehicle for sanctifying God's name. Avraham Avinu upon Nimrod's placing him into the furnace, only sanctified God's name as an individual. This is why Maimonides states "all the house of Israel" and not "everyone of Israel". As well, the verse backs this up by saying "And I will be sanctified in the midst of the house of Israel."
Maimonides starts off these laws by telling us that we are to "live by them" and not to die by them. This teaches us that for the commandments of the Torah we violate them rather than be killed. And if a person gives up his life he is considered a murderer, in this sense. The emotion of wanting to give up your life isn't always good and here the person did not think into the situation to see if it was proper to do so.
The question is why doesn't a person give up his life for all the other commandments, like he does for idolatry, prohibited sexual relations, murder? The reason is because the Torah says "and you shall live by them". First he tells us how you don't do it and then he tells us how we do give up our lives.
What is the sanctification? Is it that the person gave up his life or is it only for these three commandments? If we say it is the second then Maimonides should have said these three commandments first. By saying the negative first he is saying that were it not for "and you shall live by them" all of the commandments would be fitting for us to give up our lives for them (rather than violate them) in order to sanctify God's name. However God decided in His wisdom that these should be excluded.
This is why Maimonides says later "in what things are we speaking about". If the non-Jew is trying to force a Jew to violate the laws of Judaism then we give up our lives. Here the individual demonstrates he won't violate the commandment of the King [God]. But if the non-Jew threatened the Jew only for his own purposes (i.e., he wants a warm meal on shabbos and happens upon a Jew and says make me a meal or die) then we violate the commandments rather than die.
Why then are these three groupings of commandments excluded from "and you shall live by them" such that we always must give our lives up for them?
Idolatry is against all of Torah. We aren't just believers in Hashem, but we are also disbelievers. Idolatry is a denial not only of Hashem but also of "there is none aside from Him" (i.e. there is only God and no other forces or gods).
Torah doesn't teach creation of the angels for fear that it would lead to people having the wrong idea and the worship of the angels. The acceptance of the yolk of heaven is through knowledge, not through restraint (i.e., keeping the commandments even if you don't want to). As much as we are able to, we should imitate the angels. The blessing in the morning tefilot is also to teach that angels have no power since "there is none aside from Him." Denial of idolatry is automatically accepting the yolk of heaven.
Outreach programs of today are bad since all we need to do is get a person to reject idolatry. We have a concept of anyone who denies idolatry is considered like one who has kept all of Torah. Just getting people to keep the commandments is not good if they still have the wrong philosophical and metaphysical (ideas relating to God) ideas.
Sexual prohibitions
This creates a backdrop of how to function within the realm of knowledge of God. If a person is living only as an instinctual animal, they can't have knowledge of God. This takes away his mind and without his mind he can't have knowledge. The sexual drive is the most powerful force in mankind. That's why it is this and not the laws of kosher that are what sanctifies us. "You shall be holy" by separating from the sexual prohibitions. Engaging in
these puts a person into a completely animalistic state.
This is in terms of man's relationship to others. Murder is the greatest harm in terms of man's aspect of being a societal creature. Whereas all other violations of commandments between man and man just limit the scope of society, murder destroys it. For instance if theft were something prevalent, everyone would form into gangs for protection or most people would stay at home. However the basis for society still exists and there can still be some
functioning, albeit, in the gangs. Murder however kills the person. There is no society to have.
It is for these reasons that God commanded us to give up our lives for these three, whereas all the other commandments are not antithetical to Torah, the purpose of man, or to man's existence as a societal being such that we'd be obligated to give up our lives.

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