Sanctifying God
Moshe Ben-Chaim
Reader: I believe I remember reading in Maimonides' rules for the critical number of Jews present that dictates if, above this number you should admit your heritage/belief and suffer martyrdom as an example, and below this number you should deny it in order to preserve yourself and the line. I'd like to know, if I didn't dream this, what the number is and how it was arrived at.
Mesora: In laws of the "Foundations of Torah", Chapter V, Laws I, II and III, Maimonides states the following:
V.I: "The entire house of Israel is commanded on sanctifying God's great name, as it is stated, 'And you shall sanctify me in the midst of the Jews'. And we are (also) warned not to defile Him, as it states, 'and do not defile My distinct name'. What is an example of how one does this? When an idolater rises and forces a Jew to (either) violate any one of the commandments stated in the Torah, or face death, one must violate and not be killed, as its states, 'the commands by which man should live by them', live by them and not die by them. And if he (selects) to die and not violate, this person is culpable with his life".



V.II: "In what circumstances does this apply? In all other commandments aside from idolatry, murder and adultery. But in these three commandments, if he tells you to violate or suffer death, one must suffer death and not violate. But this (that suffering death is limited to these three alone) applies only if the idolater intends to satisfy his desires, for example, if he forces you to build his house on Sabbath or cook him foods (on Sabbath), or he forces a woman to have intercourse, or similar cases. But if he intends for you to violate the command alone, (for no other reason than to violate the Torah) if just the two of you are there, and there are not ten other Jews, then you must violate (and not be killed), but if he forces you to violate with ten Jews present, then you must suffer death and not violate, even if he intends you to violate any of the other commands."
V. III: "And all these matters are dealing in the case when there is no oppression, but in a time of oppression, that is, as a wicked king as Nevuchadnezzar and his friends, and they decree upon Israel to nullify their religion or a command from the commands, one must suffer death and not violate, even on one of the rest of the commandments (aside from the three mentioned), whether one is forced in front of ten Jews or forced between him and the idolater alone."


We learn a number of lessons from Maimonides' words. He teaches us that satisfying the needs of the idolater does not necessarily demand we forfeit our lives, even if by doing so we violate God's commands. In such a case where the idolater merely wants his passions fulfilled, one must violate the law, and not sacrifice his life. The reason is, that there is no defiling of God in such a case. This is not the intent of the idolater. But if he forces a Jew to publicly violate the Torah for violation's sake, then he must suffer death, and not defile God's name. This is clear from the command "And you shall sanctify me in the midst of the Jews." But when alone with the idolater, since there is no sanctification in the "midst of the Jews", (a quorum of 10) there is no obligation to suffer death.
A rabbi once noted, the fact there is a separate verse in the Torah of, "the commands by which man should live by them", teaches that this separate verse is a new permission to violate commandments, and not die. Without this verse, one would have to die for any command, not just the three. The lesson? Each and every commandment is essential to man's life, and worthy of death. So why did God make exception, and allow us to violate the commands? A "permission" indicates just how essential each command is. Permission means that we must take into consideration ALL commands, and that their violation is not obvious, even to save life. Their violation requires consideration, and permission. Life then, does in fact outweigh violation of all commands in general. Not because of the dispensibility of the commands, but actually the opposite. It is because these very commands are so important to our perfection, that God says "break the commands now, so we may keep them later", by remaining alive. This I believe is the exact meaning of "Live by them".
We see that man's reason for martyrdom is to demonstrate that our lives are meaningless without the system of the Torah. In terms of God, sanctification of His name comes about when man lays down his life instead of violating His word. Such an act of devotion teaches others that God's word is absolute truth, and God's truth is the goal of human life.
Sanctification of God's name may be defined as: the demonstration that God is the source of all reality, and all truth.
Related articles: Sanctifying God's Name

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