On April 14th, 2000, the New York Times wrote a moving article about two families, one in Brooklyn and one in Italy.
Miriam and Rabbi Ronald Barry had gotten tested in 1991 to see if they could be bone marrow donors. A few months later, a match came up for Rabbi Barry. There is a small risk, 1 in 20,000, associated with giving bone marrow. It is a small risk, but it is a risk nonetheless. Rabbi Barry decided to be a donor. As the New York Times wrote:
''How many people,'' Mrs. Barry asked, ''get the opportunity to say, 'I saved a life'? What a thing to take up with you at the end of days.''
After the bone donation, the recipient's family decided to reach out to the Barrys. The donation had gone to a 9-year-old boy named Nicola Trevisan in a small village of Tonco in the Asti region of Italy. The families began to correspond and to become friendly.
And then in 2000 the Barrys went to visit Italy.
The Trevisans, who had never met Jews before, took a crash course on the rules of Kashrut in order to host the Barry's. The Trevisons set up an entire day's tour for the Barry's, and located a nearby historic synagogue and had it opened. In the synagogue's guest book, Armando Trevisan wrote:
''This is the reunion of the Barry family of Brooklyn and the Trevisans of Tonco..".
And that night, at the Tonco city hall, the entire village came out to welcome and thank the Barrys. One act of kindness had touched hundreds of people on the other side of the world.
This is a story of Kiddush Hashem. This commandment is in our week’s Torah reading. To my mind, it is the central commandment of Judaism.
Let me explain why.
As you go through life there are three questions that you will ask yourself on a regular basis.
The first is what do I need? How do I ensure that I am nourished, clothed, and sheltered.
The second is what do I want? How do I find friendship, respect, love, and success.
The final question is why am I here? This is a question that we don't ask ourselves often enough, and it's a question we ask more frequently as we get older. We ask it more often at 18 than at 13. And we certainly ask it more often at 28 and 48.
Kiddush Hashem is the Jewish answer to the question of "why am I here?"
Through the ages, there have been two ways that kiddush Hashem has been practiced, what I would call “Yitzchak Kiddush Hashem” and “Avraham Kiddush Hashem”.
Sometimes Kiddush Hashem demands a difficult sacrifice, like the Akeidat Yitzchak.
And since then, Jews have made enormous sacrifices to retain their Jewish faith; at times being called to make the ultimate sacrifice, and at other times giving up jobs and opportunities to maintain their observance of Shabbat and mitzvot.
But at other times, Kiddush Hashem has been about finding our mission in life, and sharing that mission with the world; this is what Avraham did his entire life, bringing spirituality and kindness to those around him.
In 2013, Rabbi Noah Muroff, then a Yeshiva High School teacher in Connecticut, bought a used desk off of Craigslist. It was too large to fit through the doorway of his office, so he had to disassemble it. And when he did, a large envelope of cash fell out. In it was $98,000.
Rabbi Muroff didn't hesitate and didn't wait; he immediately called the previous owner and returned the money. The previous owner had forgotten where they put the money, and thought it was lost forever.
This story made national news, and it made a Kiddush Hashem.
Rabbi Muroff wasn't thinking about what he needed, he wasn't thinking about what he wanted; He was thinking about the question of Kiddush Hashem: why am I here?
We are living in complicated times. I know that many of us are focused on what we need and what we want. That is absolutely necessary. We need to take care of ourselves first. But just as necessary is finding an answer for why I am here.
And that is what we must do.
I take enormous pride in how so many in our community have been making a difference in people's lives. Doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals fighting on the front lines against the coronavirus. Initiatives like collecting iPads, sending meals to healthcare workers, and helping the unemployed find work have been organized. And multiple acts of kindness in our own community have been coordinated by our Chesed committee.
This difficult time has brought out the best in our community. And when we look back at this time, what we will remember most are these acts of kindness; how dedicated people made a difference and made a Kiddush Hashem, and reminded us what our mission in life is supposed to be.