Sanctifying G-d's Name

"And the L-rd spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, the L-rd bless thee and keep thee; The L-rd make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; The L-rd lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them." (Bamidbar 6:22-27)

"One time [R. Yishmael ben Elisha] entered the Holy of Holies to bring the incense, and there I saw Akatriel Y-H, the L-rd of Hosts, sitting on a high and lofty throne. He said to me, 'Yishmael, My son, bless me!' and I said to Him, 'May it be Your will that Your mercy should conquer and override Your anger, and You should treat Your children with mercy, going beyond the letter of the law,' and He nodded His head to me." (Berachot 7a)

These words are hard to understand. First of all, why did R. Yishmael choose precisely these labels for G-d:
"Akatriel", "Y-H", "the L-rd of Hosts" (Hashem Tzeva-ot)? More puzzling still is G-d's request for a blessing. Does G-d need a blessing from mortal man on Yom Kippur, when He judges and rules over the whole world? Even stranger is R. Yishmael's blessing. How did he know that G-d would find it favorable?

Here is my explanation: R. Yishmael ben Elisha was the last Kohen Gadol before the destruction of the Second Temple. (He was among the ten martyrs killed by wicked Hadrian approximately sixty-five years after the Destruction.) It was clear to R. Yishmael in his holiness and divine inspiration that G-d was about to pour out His wrath on His nation, His land and His Temple.

When G-d
"asked for a blessing", R. Yishmael understood immediately what this meant. When the Jewish People are in their land and the Temple stands in place, G-d's name is sanctified, because He is King. R. Yishmael entered the Holy of Holies and saw G-d sitting like a king on His throne, high and lofty, crowned specifically with labels of sovereignty and might. "Akatriel" represents G-d crowned as King. "Y-H" is likewise a label for strength, power and might. As King David said (Ps. 68:5), "Sing unto G-d, sing praises to His name. Extol Him Who rides upon the skies [aravot], Whose name is Y-H." He who rides upon "aravot", the Seventh Heaven (Chagiga 12b) is called Y-H.

Likewise we find (Ps. 89:9),
"O L-rd, G-d of hosts, who is mighty like You, O Y-H?" Once more might and power are linked to Y-H. And "G-d of hosts" is a known label for power and might.

R. Yishmael knew that G-d was about to destroy His Temple and exile His children, which would lead to terrible Chilul Hashem. The nations' derisive question, "Where is their G-d?" would deprive G-d of His sovereignty, and He, too, would be in exile and servitude, so to speak. R. Yishmael understood that in this "zero hour", G-d desired a solution that would spare His having to profane His name through the exile of His children and destruction of His Temple.

He, therefore, knew precisely how to bless G-d; namely, that despite G-d's children deserving exile and destruction of the Temple in terms of strict justice, G-d should go beyond the letter of the law, exercising mercy to spare their being exiled. Then G-d would remain King without Chilul Hashem. G-d nodded His head
"as if He were approving the blessing and answering 'Amen'" (Rashi).

This idea, that G-d "seeks help" so that He will not have to profane His name, is also found in Shabbat 89a:

"When Moses ascended on high... G-d said to him, 'Are there no greetings where you live?'
[i.e., why did you not greet me?] Moses replied, 'Do slaves greet their masters?' G-d then said, 'You should have assisted Me', and Moses immediately invoked [Num. 14:17], 'Now, I pray, let the power of the L-rd be great.'"

G-d, applying Strict Justice, decreed that He would blot out Israel, and He asked Moses to provide Him with a pretext to save them by asking Him not to profane His name. Yet, Moses stood in fear before G-d, not daring to speak. G-d, therefore, provided him with an opening, telling Moses that although he was a servant, he must open the conversation because this would help Him. Moses understood the hint and immediately invoked a verse alluding to Kiddush Hashem, which is linked to G-d's power (while Chilul Hashem is expressed through G-d's weakness, so to speak).

Moses used that same verse in the spy episode, and the verse signifies: Let G-d's power be great and let Him not profane His power through the destruction of Israel. I believe this is Isaiah's intent (Isaiah 59:16) when he talks about the redemption that G-d is bringing, and he says,
"He saw that there was no man; he was astonished that there was no intercessor, hence His own arm brought Him salvation." In other words, Israel can speed the redemption through acts of Kiddush Hashem, yet they do not do so, and "there is no man". This being so, the redemption will come only "in its time" (Isaiah 60:22), when G-d redeems them Himself, albeit with the suffering of the Messianic era, a point I shall later address.

This is also Rashi's intent regarding Numbers 6:26,
"May the L-rd lift up His countenance unto you and give you peace", which he interprets to mean, "conquer His anger". This is difficult to understand, for when a person angers someone and is then chastised, who lowers their visage in shame, if not the offending party? It is he who is embarrassed and lowers his visage in shame. Thus, when the kohen blesses the people and says, "May He lift up His countenance unto you", asking of G-d that He "conquer His anger", as Rashi wrote, how can it be that G-d will lift up His countenance? He, after all, is the wronged party, the one who was angered, and it was Israel who angered Him. Does not logic dictate that the one who was chastised, the one who angered the other, Israel, should have to raise their countenance after G-d forgives them?

Certainly, however, here as well, the Torah has in mind the concept that G-d
"is with us in trouble" (Ps. 91:15), that the Divine Presence is in exile, that the humiliation of Israel is a Chilul Hashem. It is the kohen's blessing that even if Israel are unworthy of redemption, G-d will redeem them for the sake of His name. After all, the rebuke Israel receive is, so to speak, rebuke to G-d, as well, and G-d's countenance, as well, is "lowered in shame" because of the derision and Chilul Hashem that He has suffered. It follows that G-d must first of all lift up His countenance and "Save Himself". Then He can save Israel, as well, such that they, too, will lift up their countenance.

From all the points raised above, we can understand clearly the true definition of Kiddush
and Chilul Hashem within the true Jewish Torah perspective, and mainly, how important is Israel's duty to blot out, at all cost, national Chilul Hashem.

By Rabbi Meir Kahane
The Jewish Idea
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