Selected Sermon/Article
2001-10-02 Sermon First Day Sukkos by Rav Ze'ev Smason
A Kiddush HaShem
First, it was American flags. Now, retailers are facing another shortage triggered by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington; a shortage of Firefighter costumes for Halloween.

An annual barometer of what's popular with American kids is what costumes are the 'hot sellers' in October. I found it of interest to learn this past week that America's costume makers say their inventories of firefighter outfits have all but run out. And it seems that firefighters aren't the only heroes kids want to imitate this year. Industry experts point out that there's a very high demand for police officer and doctor outfits, with sales of such costumes up 10% to 20% so far over last year. It seems that even America's trick or treaters have found inspiration from the WTC heroes.

Someone once said, "A mediocre teacher tells, a good teacher explains, a superior teacher demonstrates; but the great teacher inspires."

All of us have vivid memories of that one special teacher in high school or college who inspired us to learn with the passion and commitment that they brought to their class. So too, the Torah tells us in the kriah (Torah reading) for Sukkos, that each and every one of us is obligated to be a source of inspiration for our fellow Jews:

V'nikdashtee b'soch Bnai Yisrael - I will be sanctified among Bnai Yisrael. (Leviticus 22:32)

The Torah here states the mitzvah of 'kiddush HaShem' -- the obligation to sanctify God's name through being a shining personal example and role model of what it means to be a good Jew.

From Avraham Avinu to the greatest rabbis of our present generation, countless stories have been told how acts of spiritual heroism have inspired our people. A lesser known detail regarding the mitzvah of 'kiddush HaShem,' however, is that creating a positive impression about Hashem and His Torah is important to bring about in the eyes of non-Jews, as well as Jews.

We can never know how far the ripple effect of our kiddush HaShem may travel, as the following story that I'd like to tell you, indicates.

Jacob Viener and his wife were attempting to bring up their children in accordance with Jewish tradition. That wasn't an easy thing to do in a small Missouri town in the mid-1880's.

One of the advantages of living just outside of Kansas City was that there were plenty of people who could be used as a Shabbos goy. When one was required, it was usually the Viener's young neighbor Harry who was called upon.

Harry frequently visited the Viener family to light the fire to warm the house in the frigid Midwest winter, or for various other Shabbos chores. Harry was well liked and well respected, and whenever he came the Vieners made sure to show their appreciation by giving the young man a piece of kugel or a slice of gefilte fish. Harry later said that he became particularly fond of the matzah he'd be served.

When Harry returned from duty in World War I, he opened a haberdashery business in partnership with a Jew named Eddie Jacobson. Harry later went into local politics, and did a number of favors for the Jewish community, like surfacing the road to the local Jewish cemetery. The Viener family no doubt took tremendous pride in the friendship that they had with their Missouri neighbor. But in their wildest dreams they couldn't have imagined how far the dividends of their kiddush HaShem would extend.

In 1934, Harry was elected to the United States Senate. In 1944 President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt inexplicably dropped his vice-presidential candidate, and chose a young and obscure Missouri senator -- by the name of Harry S Truman. Shortly after his inauguration, FDR passed away, and Vice-president Truman became president of the United States.

One of the major problems the Truman administration faced following the end of World War II was deciding the country's policy towards the proposed state of Israel. Truman later wrote:

The Department of State's specialists on the Near East were, almost without exception, unfriendly to the idea of a Jewish State. ..... (they) thought that the Arabs, on account of their numbers and ....oil...should be appeased. I am sorry to say that there were some of them who were inclined to be anti-Semitic.

In spite of this, Truman immediately supported the State. As Truman himself put it in a personal note:

I recognized Israel immediately ... in 1948....against the advice of my own Secretary of State, George Marshall, who was afraid that the Arabs wouldn't like it...But I felt that Israel deserved to be recognized and didn't give a darn whether the Arabs liked it or not.

To this day, historians debate exactly what influenced Truman to be so sympathetic towards Israel -- a policy that more or less has been in place for the past fifty years. Truman's own memoirs indicate that a major factor was his desire to help those who had experienced such terrible suffering at the hands of the Nazis.

Where did this sympathy come from? The earliest experiences an individual has are often the ones that form the crux of his views for the rest of his life. It is quite possible that the young Harry Truman was influenced by what he experienced with the Viener family in turn of-the-century Independence, Missouri.

Thus, a single shomer Shabbos family helped bring about the State of Israel. It isn't just something we say; one man's kiddush haShem really can change the world.

The Torah reading for Sukkot states: V'nikdashtee b'soch Bnai Yisrael - I will be sanctified among Bnai Yisrael.

May the Almighty give us pleasant weather and good companionship as we rejoice in our Sukkahs this year. May He also help us to focus on the importance of making a kiddush HaShem (sanctifying God's Name) when we venture outside amongst our neighbors. Be careful, because you never know -- you might be talking to the next Harry Truman!

Good Yom Tov