In the wake of the massacre in Pittsburgh, one of the most cited cliches is “They were killed just because they were Jewish.” But the phrase “just because” implies something inconsequential.
There is another concept called “dying al kiddush Hashem”, dying for the sanctification of G-d’s Name, which is the exact opposite. It is dying because one is Jewish. When being Jewish is the most important thing to someone, and, in particular, when one is killed because the killer is opposed to Jews and Judaism, one dies al kiddush Hashem.
Everyone knows about the danger of Islamic terrorism here in Israel. But Atlanta, where we moved from, is also a dangerous place. A former mayor in the nineties once wrote a letter to the editor trying to prove that Atlanta was safer than Bosnia – during the Bosnian civil war. And he was right, statistics were slightly in our favor.
The difference is that the violence in Atlanta is random. Someone wants your car, your sneakers, etc. One of the things that convinced my wife and I to make aliyah was this fact. We could be killed in Atlanta or we could be killed here (we’re both rooting for neither), but here we’d die because we were Jews being Jews, doing one of the most Jewish things of all, repopulating the Land of Israel.
Better than dying al kiddush Hashem, is living al kiddush Hashem. This means living a life that has a positive influence on others; a life that others can learn from. This week’s parasha was Chayei Sarah. Both Abraham and Sarah die at ripe old ages, but after living long lives establishing what would become the Jewish people. To this day, Jews go to visit their grave, not because of the way they died, but because of the way they lived.
I didn’t know the victims in Pittsburgh, but if being Jewish was unimportant to them, then they died “just because” they were Jewish, and that would be doubly sad. But if it was important to them; if they stood for something; then they died al kiddush Hashem and they join the unfortunately long list of martyrs of the Jewish people.