by Rabbi Menachem Brod
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav
The essence of martyrdom is sacrifice, renunciation of the self, giving up all that one has in order to serve higher ideals. But for our enemies, it is exactly the opposite.
The ideal of martyrdom is etched into the consciousness of the Jewish nation. The best example of this is the binding of Isaac, which represents the ultimate in the willingness to give up everything for the Almighty. And to this, over the generations, have been added endless stories of the self-sacrifice of Jews who chose to die in sanctification of G-d’s name.
However, despite our admiration and sanctification of martyrdom, it is life that Judaism sanctifies, and not death. The commandment “And you will live by them” is the guiding principle, according to which, saving a life is the greatest and most important thing, and the entire Torah is overridden in order to save a life (except in the case when the three things are involved about which it is stated “he should die rather than trespass these laws”).*
This is the essential difference between us and the proponents of wild, radical Islam, who encourage a culture that sanctifies death. On the surface, there is something that might resemble noble self-sacrifice – young people, men and women, who have their whole lives ahead of them, decide to die for something that they believe in.
But actually the opposite is true. There is no self-sacrifice here, but the result of sickening brainwashing, which sees life in this world as without value, presenting the young with an illusion of a life of enjoyment and pleasure (according to a crude and vulgar world view) in the world to come. Various preachers send the youths the message that their life is garbage; it’s a pity for them to live, to strive and to suffer. Do something courageous and you will become, that very moment, a shahid, who will enjoy the pleasures of the next world (the degree of deception and lying here can be seen in the fact that these preachers refrain from sending their own children to carry out these suicide missions).
This is the total opposite of real self-sacrifice. The essence of martyrdom is sacrifice, a renunciation of the “I”, giving up everything one has for the sake of higher values. But what we see here is exactly the opposite: they suggest to weak-minded young people a magic deal – to exchange their miserable lives for the promise of a wonderful life in the world to come. They go to their deaths with the delusion that this act will, in the future, provide them with a life several times better. There is no sacrifice or renunciation of self here, but the hope to obtain a better existence (as they imagine it).
These insane deeds can only develop from within a culture that assigns no value to life. Their songs and slogans declare: “We love death”. We see their murderous lust, which is turned not only toward their enemies but also against their own people. This is how a society looks when life is not important to it. So if life lacks value, why not die in a way that will earn you praise and admiration?
Life is the objective
In contrast, we sanctify life. We know that to save one life is to save an entire world. We are commanded to do everything in order to prolong life even for another minute, because life here, fulfilling the Creator’s will in this world is our objective.
A Jew desires with all of his might to live and not to die, and therefore when he gives up his life voluntarily he does not do this in order to gain something, but from true self-sacrifice and the willingness to give up everything that is dear to him for the sake of the Almighty. This is true self-sacrifice, like the act of the binding of Isaac, where there was no hope for any benefit at all; rather, it is total renunciation and subjugation of the self to the will of the Creator.
*Suicide is considered a grave sin according to Judaism, but a person is allowed to give up his life rather than commit murder, engage in forbidden sexual relations or idol worship.
Rabbi Menachem Brod
Source: Sihat Hashavua, October 30, 2015, Published by Chabad Youth Society
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