Chillul Hashem and Territorial Concessions

The Rambam, in The Laws of the Foundations of Torah, Chapter Five, explains that there is a positive commandment to sanctify God. In other words, a Jew must be ready to give up his life to sanctify the Name of God. For instance, if a non-Jew commands him, “Murder your companion, and if not, we will kill you,” then the Jew must be willing to surrender his life and not transgress the commandment, “Thou shall not murder.” This is the law concerning the grave sins of incest, murder, and idol worship. Due to their severity, there is no meaning left to life after such a transgression, and it is preferable for a person to give up his life rather than one to commit one of these three cardinal sins.

Concerning all the other mitzvot of the Torah, however, the law is different. If, for example, Gentiles captured a Jew, threatening him that if he does not profane the Sabbath, or eat pork, they will kill him – he must profane the Sabbath or eat the forbidden food, and not give up his life, for it is written: “And you shall live by them,” (the words of the Torah), and not die by them.

It is important to note, however, that this applies specifically when the non-Jews coerce the Jew to transgress the mitzvah for their enjoyment, but if their goal is to compel him to transgress his religion and mock his faith, then, if the action takes place publically in front of ten Jews, he must give up his life and not sin regarding any prohibition, for this is not just an individual sin, but rather the honor of the Torah is at stake. In this situation, a person who complies with the non-Jews and violates the prohibition is similar to one who transgresses the entire Torah and desecrates the Name of God. Therefore the halakha states that one must sanctify God by being killed, and not commit the sin.

In the light of this principle, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaCohen Kook ruled that the prohibition of withdrawing from parts of the Land of Israel also includes a desecration of God, and thus obligates us to be willing to be killed and not transgress (yahareg v’al ya’avor). This is due to the fact that God’s promise that Eretz Yisrael belongs to the Jews is stated over and over again in the Torah, and the entire world knows this. The Arabs who seek to oust the people of Israel from its Land are doing so in defiance of the word of God and the commandments of the Torah. The proof of this is that there are many Arab nations that do not share a border with us, and have absolutely no historical claims to our Land, yet they fight us nonetheless. This is nothing but a war against our faith.

Consequently, withdrawal from the Land of Israel involves a very great Chillul Hashem, (desecration of God) for it is carried out by the general populace, and a sin executed by the many, in front of all the nations, cannot be compared to the sin of an individual. This is especially true when speaking about the well-known mitzvah of settling the land. Every non-Jew who has read the Bible knows that God promised the Land of Israel to His chosen Nation. When the non-Jew sees that the Jews are willing to give up parts of their Land, disavowing the promise of God, as if God lacks the power to safeguard Eretz Yisrael for His people, there is no greater desecration of God than this. In order to prevent such a Chillul Hashem, we must be ready to fight with maserut nefesh (a spirit of self-sacrifice) to defend the Land, and not relinquish any part of our Holy Land that the Creator of heaven and earth gave to us as an eternal inheritance.

Indeed, it seems that this obligation falls under the definition of yahareg v’al ya’avor (to be killed and not transgress), but in a situation where we don’t have a chance of winning the war, there is no mitzvah to fight, for even if we give up our lives, the Land will fall into the hands of non-Jews, and the Name of God will be desecrated before all the nations. However, when there is a chance of keeping possession of our Holy Land, it is our obligation to fight with the utter self-sacrifice of maserut nefesh in order that it remains in our hands, as the Torah has commanded. Thank God, in His great mercy and compassion, He has returned us to our Land and given us the strength and military might to maintain control over all parts of our cherished inheritance, and therefore we must guard over the entire Land with maserut nefesh.

In my humble opinion, after HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook emphasized the element of Kiddush Hashem in upholding Jewish sovereignty over all of our Land, seeing that the basis of the conflict with our neighbors is a war against our religion, the discussion over whether a withdrawal would strengthen other parts of the Land under our control, or whether a withdrawal would save Jewish lives, all become moot matters. There are two reasons for this: halakhic, and actual fact. Halakhically, we are already commanded in this matter to be willing to give up our lives rather than surrender to the demands of our enemies, and in a time when Am Yisrael is able to stand firm against them, the deliberations of possible benefit from a withdrawal are no longer relevant. Paralleling this is the fact that actual events have proven this to be true, because when we understand that the motivation behind the enemy is a war against our religion, to demonstrate the superiority of theirs, which demands world Jihad, any concession on our part will not bring an end to the enemy’s drive to destroy us. Rather they will continue to impose their religion and Jihad against us, and do their upmost to prevent “infidels” who don’t accept their religion to have sovereignty over a region that is supposed to be Muslim, according to their beliefs. It is also important to note that in the Islamic world, war is not something to be avoided, but rather one of the six commandments of Islam. Unlike the Jewish Nation, which is directed toward peace, and fights out of defense, Islam fosters war as long as there are peoples who haven’t embraced their religion. The only way to stop their war efforts is to show them that they have no chance to win. Therefore, any withdrawal on our part only serves to increase their appetite to continue waging war, whether conventionally or through terror, in order to achieve their religious goals and obligations. Thus, their aggressive posture in trying to impose their religious doctrines over ours puts us in a situation of Kiddush Hashem, to oppose them at all costs, in order to sanctify the Name of God in upholding the fundamental tenets of our faith. Regarding HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s ruling that the prohibition of withdrawing from parts of Eretz Yisrael is “yahareg v’al ya’avor.” My explanation follows the opinion of my father and teacher, HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed, shlita, a longtime student of Rabbi Kook and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Bet-El. In actual practice, the time when a person would be called upon to uphold the principle of yahareg v’al ya’avor is when he is forced to take an action that would bring about withdrawal. For example, if a country would threaten Israel’s Prime Minister that they will kill him if he doesn’t sign an agreement whereby Israel withdraws from a region it presently rules over in Eretz Yisrael, then he must be willing to be killed rather than surrender to their demand.