A captured leader of the so-called Intifada was recently videoed in court taunting his Israeli jailers. The murderer declared that he was positive the Jews would eventually be defeated due to their basic character flaw of cowardice. From his perspective, his cohorts' willingness to die is a sign of their commitment to their cause, while our dedication to survival is a sign of weakness.

Judaism is a religion that values life above all. Our enemies revel in death. For us the pre-eminent command is vochai bohem - you should live with the Torah and mitzvot1 — true life, ecstatic with the opportunity to serve G‑d; while their societal lust is for suicide, mayhem and murder.

However, even a peace loving, life-affirming nation must be ready, when necessary, to take up arms in self-defence. Jews are not mindless pacifists, nor does our religion demand a reflexive "turning the other cheek" upon being attacked. Halachic law books are replete with justifications for defensive wars and pre-emptive military strikes. One can argue that the distinction between our enemies and ourselves is expressed not by our unwillingness to fight; rather, for us, violence is a last resort, entered into only under duress, while for them carnage and bloodshed are a goal.

Not only must we be ready to defend ourself when provoked, even at the moral cost of being forced to hurt others, but there are occasions when we must be willing to lay down our own lives in deference to a higher cause.

There are three instances where the tenets of Judaism demand every Jew be prepared to sacrifice himself. The spiritual consequences of murder, worshiping a foreign faith or indulging in a forbidden sexual relationship are so dire that one is expected to allow oneself to be killed rather than perpetrate these transgressions. In these exceptional circumstances it is not that one volunteers to die, rather that one cannot imagine living with such a sin on one's conscience.

Very occasionally, certain Jews have proved willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause that at first glance may seem less critical than these three fundamental sins. We read this week how Joseph was willing to risk his life just to fulfill an errand for his father.2 Similarly, one of the proudest parts of the Chanukah story is the courage displayed by Matisyahu and sons in their struggle to practice every last scintilla of their religion, even to the extent that they were willing to lay down their own lives to ensure that others too could be free to live as Jews.

Joseph observed a lack of deference by his brothers to their father's authority and resolved to fulfill his father’s desires to the maximum, even to the extent of placing himself in danger. Similarly, the Maccabees were willing to die, if there was the even the slightest chance of influencing others to appreciate the gift of our heritage.

There are times when one must be willing to make any sacrifice, no matter the cost, to ensure the propagation of our religion. When a leader is convinced that the circumstances of the moment demand this ultimate forfeit, then he will lay his own neck on the line, demonstrating his true values and priorities, and from this his followers will draw succour for generations to come.

Unlike the corrupt mouthpieces for terror who cower safely in their luxurious Gazan villas while despatching their naïve bomb-belted followers into Israel, our leaders such as Joseph and the Maccabees, demonstrate true courage, Jewish courage. Only something of overriding significance to the future of your religion could demand such an ultimate act of personal sacrifice, and this sacrifice can only be undertaken by the greatest and bravest of our people.3