Sins to Die For

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

We are commanded in Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name; we fulfill this when accepting death instead of Torah violation. There are many conditions and cases, but I wish to cite the primary cases of idolatry, adultery and murder. If threatened with the choice of death or committing one of these 3 cardinal sins, we must accept death as our dedication to sanctifying God. What makes these 3 sins unique? 

Why does one murder? It is because in one’s mental state, in his subjective psychological reality, he cannot tolerate another human’s existence. He values man: “When Haman saw that Mordechai would not kneel or bow low to him, Haman was filled with rage. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordechai alone; having been told who Mordecai’s people were, Haman plotted to do away with all the Jews” (Esther 3:5,6). To conform reality to his ego, Haman plotted to murder others. Instead of changing himself, the wicked man desires to change reality.

Adultery is the caving into lusts to a degree where vital considerations are ignored. One feels his desires must be satisfied unconditionally, and outweigh others, such as his friend whose marriage will be wrecked.

Idolatry is where one’s mind is distorted in the most important area: How does all exist? He does not recognize the ultimate reality of God’s existence.

In all 3 cases, a primary human faculty is corrupted. One cannot choose a life where he commits any of these sins, as continued existence with these corruptions is worse than death. Man’s primary faculties are his mind, his ego and his instincts. Corrupting one’s mind through idolatry, one’s ego through murder and one’s instincts through sinful sexual gratification render one’s life worthless. Other sins like eating non-kosher do not corrupt man’s primary faculties, and therefore, if threatened to eat non-kosher or be murdered, one must violate to save his life. As such lesser infractions do not fully distort man’s essence, it is obligatory to preserve one’s life over abstention and suffering death. But when coerced to corrupt oneself on a primary level, preservation of one’s soul (values) outweighs preservation of one’s life.