“You shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel, I am Hashem Who sanctifies you. Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be a God unto you; I am Hashem” (22:32-33)
Rashi explains that one must not transgress the words of Hashem willfully. Rather one must surrender his life in order to sanctify the Name of Hashem. When a person is willing to die “al Kiddush Hashem’ this is mesirus nefesh at its highest level.>
The laws of mesirus nefesh however apply only to Jews. For example, if a non-Jew is given the choice of transgressing the laws of idol worship or being killed, he may bow down to the idol to save his life. The same holds true for the other six mitzvos of Bnai Noach. What is the intrinsic difference between a Jew and a non-Jew concerning the laws of mesirus nefesh?
We find the answer at the end of the pasukim, “Who took you out of the land of Egypt….” When Hashem redeemed us from slavery he acquired us body and soul. In essence the pidyon (redemption) was an acquisition. And because we belong to Hashem we must use our bodies to serve him.
It is with this thought in mind that Chana prayed to Hashem (and was answered with a son, Shmuel HaNavi).
“Sovereign of the Universe, among all the things that You have created in a woman, You have not created even one without a purpose: eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell, a mouth to speak, hands to do work, legs to walk with and breasts to nurse. Yet, these breasts that You have put on my heart, they are not nursing. Give me a son, so that I may nurse with them.” (Brachos 31B)
Did Chana really believe that a certain part of her body had no purpose? What did she mean when she said, “You have created one without a purpose?”
Chana understood that every part of her body must serve Hashem. By nursing a Jewish child she would be elevating herself.
Being that Hashem “owns” us we are obligated to serve Him. And like Chana we must pray for opportunities to serve the One who gives us the receptacles to do so. Therefore, we must be careful how we eat, dress and speak. We must go beyond the desire for excessive comforts and be ready to live a life of “pas v’melach tochal” (eating bread and salt).
Through mesirus nefesh we are able to elevate the physical world to a ruchnias (spiritual) world. A non-Jew is missing that ability because he is not owned by Hashem. Therefore, if he wants to be spiritual he must leave the physical world behind. For example, if a non-Jew brings a Korban Todah (thanksgiving sacrifice) he is forbidden to eat it. However, a Jew may eat from the Korban Todah because he is able to eat ‘le’shaim shamayim’. In this way he elevates the food and the act of eating from something physical to something spiritual.
The pursuit of spirituality is measured by our intentions and our mesirus nefesh. And the results are that the world around us is transformed from the mundane to the profound.
The current plague was met with drastic action by the nations of the world. Within a few short weeks all borders were essentially closed. Airlines were grounded. Cruises searched desperately for a country to allow disembarkation. Shops were shuttered. As the plague worsened people were told to wear masks and keep a social distance, it’s best to stay indoors. All of this is Hashem’s way of disconnecting humankind from running after materialism; no traveling, no sports, no hopping sprees – the list is endless. The great majority of people have responded with heroism and selflessness by giving to others without asking for anything in return.
COVID-19 brought about an abrupt and long interruption of our daily activities. The result was that we became more focused on Hashem’s guidance. Now that travel and entertainment are opening up the many forms of materialism which once distracted us from our relationship with Hashem will return. The challenge today will be to live with the high level of awareness we’ve achieved over this past year and a half in the face of returning obstacles.