Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rambam- Yisodei Hatorah perek 5 halacha 3- Anti-Jewish Decrees and Sacrificing One's Life

וכל הדברים האלו שלא בשעת הגזרה אבל בשעת הגזרה והוא שיעמוד מלך רשע כנבוכדנצר וחביריו ויגזור גזרה על ישראל לבטל דתם או מצוה מן המצות. יהרג ואל יעבור אפילו על אחת משאר מצות בין נאנס בתוך עשרה בין נאנס בינו לבין עובדי כוכבים :

All of these cases are when there is no decree [against the Jews]. However, in a time where there is a decree, when an evil king is in charge like Nevuchadnezzar and his friends and they make a decree against the Jews in order to negate their religion or one of the commandments, then one must give up their life instead of transgressing even one of the regular commandments, whether they are forced to transgress in front of 10 Jewish people or the sin is only between the Jew and the non-Jew [that is forcing them to transgress].

The question here is what is a Jew doing wrong when a Jew is forced to transgress one of the commandments in the Torah? Is it a chilul Hashem (disgrace of the name)? It seems like, from the previous halachas in the Rambam, that this idea (of chilul Hashem) only applies in front of 10 Jews. What, then, is a Jew doing that is so severe that it is better that he or she give up their life rather than transgress one of the regular commandments, not even one of the three special commandments?

I think the answer lies in why the three big sins of illicit relations, murder and idol worship also require one to give up their life even when there are not ten Jews around. The effect that it has on a person is tremendous. When a person is living in a society where being a Jew is looked down upon and then they are forced to transgress a commandment in the Torah, this effects a person on a deep level. The person sees him or herself as part of something that is despicable to others. On top of that, when they transgress, they think that there is no harm in this transgression. Nothing happened to me so why should I continue to be a part of this nation that is oppressed? This mentality would lead to the downfall of Judaism. Therefore, in order to protect the religion and perpetuate it throughout eternity we need these laws and show that we will never surrender to these evil temptations.

In truth, if one were to transgress one of the commandments in this time, there would be no punishment for it. This rule was set in place in order to allow people to choose death over the transgression of the commandments. Usually a Jew is not allowed to sacrifice his or her life for anything. However, this rule was made in order that devoted people could stand up and show that they are proud to be Jewish and that even the most, seemingly, mundane commandment is dear to them.

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