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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Kiddush Hashem

By Rabbi Sender Haber

“Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel…” (Bamidbar 20:12)

Moshe was punished because he did not sanctify G-d’s name. He did not make a Kidddush Hashem.

When I was a kid they told us that we had to behave nicely on the bus so that we wouldn’t make a Chilul Hashem. When I got older, they told me that it wasn’t true. Kiddush Hashem - Sanctifying G-d’s name - is not about behaving on the bus. It is about being a good Jew, about following the word of Hashem, and about changing this world and making it holy.

Some people call it activism, some people call it Tikkun Olam, and some people call it making a difference. I’m afraid they might all be wrong.

The Chafetz Chayim had a granddaughter who was not very religious. Harav Shimshon Pincus ZTL once traveled with a different grandchild of the Chofetz Chayim, Reb Hillel Zaks to visit her in Be’er Sheva.

The woman explained that she had grown up in difficult times both physically and spiritually. In 1917, as a teenager, she was dealing with many internal struggles and doubts. She decided to confront the great Tzadik, the Chofetz Chayim, directly. The Chofetz Chayim was, of course, one of the greatest leaders and gedolim alive. She asked the Chofetz Chayim “How can you sit here in this little town of Radin “doing nothing” while in the world around you technology and industry are developing at an unprecedented rate?”

The Chofetz Chayim was not offended. He explained: “You see airplanes flying and you are very impressed, one day they will invent an airplane that can fly to the moon. You hear about bombs blowing up buildings and you are awed, soon they will invent a bomb that can destroy an entire city.

It is true that the world around us is impressive and awesome, amazing advances are being made daily, but that is not my primary concern – I am not in the business of making better bombs or better airplanes. ‘Mir Machen Menchen’ The Torah makes people better and my job is to become a mench. My job is to become a human being who is closer to Hashem. That is what I am doing here in Radin.”

Looking back, we know that the Chofetz Chayim was not “doing nothing”. By coming closer to Hashem the Chofetz Chayim was able to bring an entire generation and generations after him closer to Hashem. He did this by concentrating on growth and by beginning with himself. The Chofetz Chayim is quoted as saying: I set out to change the world, then realized that I could only change my city, as I got older I realized that I could only change those immediately surrounding me, and as I got older still I realized that I need to concentrate on myself.

We get so involved in the big things that we sometimes forget the little things. Our fifth grade teachers were right. We are supposed to act nicely on the bus and on airplanes. We are supposed to be honest, even if it means losing a little money. We need to trust in Hashem.

We need to be polite and courteous and hold the door open for people. We need to be careful about our language and control our tempers and think twice before waking up our neighbors or blocking their driveways.

We need to mow our lawns and return lost items and help old ladies across the street.  We need to speak nicely about people. We need to show the world that the Torah really does refine a person.

All of that is a Kiddush Hashem.

Some people set out to solve the world’s problems, while others help with the dishes. We need to focus inward. We need to look internally and work to change ourselves.

Reb Aron Kotler writes that Korach and his men did not set out to cause a revolution. They set out to come closer to Hashem. That is why they refused to relent: Even after Korach was swallowed up by the ground and the two hundred and fifty men killed by fire the people demanded further proof that Aron was indeed the one chosen by Hashem to be the Kohen Gadol – the High priest. Moshe needed to prove it to them by taking the staffs of each of the tribes and the staff of Aharon and putting them near the Aron – the ark - overnight. In the morning Aharon’s staff had sprouted leaves and fruits. Only then were the people convinced.

Although their objective was noble, it did not work. Rather than focusing on his own growth, Korach obsessed with Moshe’s (supposed) power grabs and cronyism.

After the story of Korach the Kohanim and Levi’im, were charged with the responsibility to guide the Jewish people in their constant quest to come closer to Hashem. The people finally realized that the way to come closer to Hashem was not by changing the structure of Klal Yisroel; it was by using the Torah (of Moshe) to look into themselves and think “how can I become a better person?”.

The Mesilas Yesharim writes that Hashem has placed us in the middle of a heavy battle. Our job is to constantly ask ourselves the same question: what can I do right now that will bring me closer to Hashem?

We are often convinced that is our primary job to change the world around us. We need to remember that our focus is to make Menchen. We need to look inward and make ourselves into people who are constantly growing as menchen and growing closer to Hashem.

We need to make a Kiddush Hashem.

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