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Sunday, 8 March 2015

Idolatry or Torture, which would you choose?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 33


When King Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Jews to Babylonia, he recognized their keen mental acumen and elevated a number of them to positions of leadership, including three young men called Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaria.   He then built a huge idol of himself and demanded that everyone bow down to the idol upon hearing the beating of drums, the clanging of symbols and various other musical sounds.

Some jealous Chaldeans reported to the king that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaria were refusing to prostrate themselves before the graven image and so they were immediately summoned to appear before him.  Adamant in their refusal, he decreed that they should be bound in ropes and cast into a fiery furnace.  He then raised the temperature to seven times the regular, so hot that those that were leading them to their sentence died en route!

Having sent the young men off to their deaths, Nebuchadnezzar’s rage abated.  Suddenly, he discerned the figures of four men wandering around inside the furnace, unbound and fully clothed.  They were none other than Hananiah, Mishael and Azaria in the company of an angel!  The three young men emerged from the furnace unscathed with their clothing completely unsinged and fresh.  Thus were they rewarded for being prepared to die rather than worship idolatry. 

Rabbi Shisha the son of Rabbi Idi taught: In the case of a fight to the death where one did not kill but caused a wound and was warned that murder would incur capital punishment: even though they did not warn him that he would receive lashes for wounding, he is deemed to have been warned.  Why?  When one warns a potential perpetrator of a more serious crime, he is considered warned of a less serious crime as well.
Rabbi Ashi asked: How do you know that death is more serious than lashes?  After all, Rav taught, ‘Had they whipped Hananiah, Mishael and Azaria, they would have worshipped the idol.’

We all know that there are three cardinal sins which one must rather be killed for than commit, those being idolatry, murder and immorality.   And no doubt most of us wouldn’t think twice before taking the bullet, so ingrained in our Jewish psyche is this fundamental law.  But did you ever consider what you would do if given the choice of idolatry or torture?  Rav suggests that our three heroes might not have acted as virtuously!

You see, dying as a Jew is relatively easy.  It takes a second and you’ve sanctified G-d’s Name.  It’s much more difficult to live as a Jew.  That takes much more effort.  That takes enduring the challenges that life throws at you and still maintaining your faith in the One Above.  Living as a Jew means enduring all of life’s tortures – physical, emotional, financial; and persevering in your relationship with the Almighty, trusting that He knows what’s best and that He is still in control.  That’s the real test of sanctifying His Name!


Dying for the sake of Heaven is an incredible mitzvah.  But living for the sake of Heaven is an even greater mitzvah.  May you merit a life committed to G-d, despite whatever tortures and challenges He sends your way!