Hear, O, Israel, the L-rd us our G‑d, the L-rd is one.

Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom for ever and ever.

G‑d is the L-rd.

As the Neila service (ultimate prayer of Yom Kippur) draws to its conclusion, we engage in a group ritual simultaneously thought-provoking and inspiring.

We proclaim in unison the Shema (once), Boruch Shem (three times) and then, as the dramatic finale, we cry out seven times "Hashem Hu HaElokim" — G‑d who created all existence, is the L-rd who rules and watches over us.

As we pronounce these sentences we are asserting our readiness and willingness to lay down our lives for G‑d and His Torah.

Yom Kippur a few years ago I caught myself wondering how ready am I? If I was called on tomorrow to make the choice between embracing the cross or death by firing squad, would I really choose the bullet? If the forces of Islam came rampaging through the streets of Melbourne, would I have the courage to lay down my life, just to stay true to my ancestors and my G‑d?

Untold millions of martyrs for Judaism have graced our bloodstained history. Rich and poor alike, educated or ignorant, religiously inspired or hereto untouched by Judaism, they all found that grace and courage to make the ultimate sacrifice in the face of all logic and compulsion to the contrary. Where did they find that supreme dedication which persuaded them to sacrifice all for an undefined and improvable ideal?

I don’t believe that self-sacrifice can be practiced. The only possible source for such awe-shattering faith must be instinctive and not developed.  Within every Jew wells a font of belief, which is drawn on only when the only available choice left is between commitment to Judaism or rejection of G‑d (G‑d forbid). With a choice so stark and the stakes so manifest, the innate nature of a Jew is truly revealed.

Perhaps our making this proclamation; at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, after a long day spent fasting and reaffirming our connection to G‑d, is the closest we get to exhibiting this faith out a choice and not necessity.

To die like a Jew?

The sacrifices I am called upon to make are more prosaic. I live in a blessed country, which provides freedom to practice and preach my religion with impunity. I needn’t run a gauntlet of Katushyas to get to the Supermarket, and the local Parishes are anything but rabble-rousers. But because my back isn’t against the wall, sometimes I find it harder to summons the clarity and sense of purpose I need to do the right thing. No one forces me to get out of bed and act like a Jew, and without the reaction, I often struggle to get the traction going on my journey through life.

A while ago I was approached by a teenage with a dilemma. She ‘desperately’ wanted to indulge in a tattoo, but had been informed that doing so would preclude her ever being buried in a Jewish cemetery. Was this true?

I didn’t answer her directly, but related a story.

The town miser was dying.  A blood disorder had left him with a dangerously high fever. The doctor’s diagnosis was that his last slim hope of survival would be if he could somehow manage to perspire and thus lower his temperature.

He’d tried steam baths, eating jalapeno peppers, nothing worked.  He was condemned to die.

He called in the Rabbi and gasped, "Rabbi, all these years when you’ve approached me to contribute to various charitable causes, I’ve always answered ‘No.’  Today, I say ‘Yes.’

"Rabbi, take a pen and record my last will and testament.

"To the town orphanage, I leave $25,000.  To the free-loan fund, I leave fifty thousand.  To the yeshiva…. to the yeshivarabbi, give me back that paper, I’m shvitzing."

You care so much about dying as a Jew, that as a 16 year old you are already obsessing about where you’ll be buried, but what are you prepared to sacrifice in order to live as a Jew?

If I can center my values on Torah values, living my life of mitzvot and good deeds, not out of fear, or the possibility that I might be forced into it at the end of a sword, but because I know it to be the right thing to do, that is my sacrifice, and that is my commitment to the future.