Sanctifying God’s Name

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

It is mandatory upon the whole house of Israel to sanctify this Great Name, for it is said, “And I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel” (Lev. 22:32). (Maimonides, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 5:1)

What is the concept of the command to “Sanctify God's name,” Kiddush Hashem? Man certainly cannot do anything to affect God or benefit Him any manner, as the verse says, “If you are righteous, what do you give Him; what does He receive from your hand?” (Job 35:7) So, what is Kiddush Hashem?

The 3 cardinal sins are idolatry, murder and adultery. If coerced to violate these or be murdered, one must accept death. How are these 3 unique as compared to the other 610 commands? These relate to the 3 main categories of man: 

1) intellect, i.e., his concept of God (idolatry), 

2) ego (murder), as one kills another due to his intolerance of reality with them present, so one changes reality through murder placing oneself more important than the murdered person, 

3) and lusts (adultery). 

If man violates one of these 3 sins solely for itself (viz. he is not killing in self-defense), he thereby values either ego, idolatry or lusts as greater than God’s will. Thereby his life is worthless as his core faculties are ruined. But one who sacrifices his life instead of violating, demonstrates his perfection in the core areas. By sacrificing his life he creates a Kiddush Hashem.

In his Laws of Teshuva, Maimonides speaks of the varied severity of sins. Some commands aim to perfect only a component of man. Therefore, if coerced, a person must violate other commands to spare his life. For in those cases his life is the greater good as he does not corrupt himself in a core measure as is true regarding the 3 cardinal sins. These “minor”sins like abstaining from shaking a lulav or eating pork do not represent a total breakdown of the person. But these 3 commands represent the totality of man; his fundamental values. 

Kiddush Hashem is where a person demonstrates the optimal value of God’s will: he does not succumb to his ego by murdering an enemy, he does not succumb to his lusts in adultery, and he maintains a true concept of God by not being idolatrous. He sanctifies God’s will. Kiddush Hashem also demonstrates how God created the human being with the capacity to follow true values, even at the loss of his life. This second reason displays God’s perfected creation, that He made a being who can follow His will perfectly. It sanctifies God in mankind’s eyes as a perfect Creator. Abraham expressed this trait when he attempted to sacrifice Isaac. On the High Holidays we ask God to recall Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and Isaac’s self-sacrifice, as we wish to embrace this level of perfection which earns us yet another year of life. The shofar that we started to blow today is reminiscent of that ram which Abraham offered in place of Isaac. We must aspire to Abraham’s perfection as we blow the shofar each morning now.

We now understand that Kiddush Hashem is when one educates mankind on God’s perfection. One demonstrates that God’s will surpasses all else—even life—and he also demonstrates God’s perfection as a creator whose creations can reach the greatest perfection. 

We don’t live only for ourselves, but we live for the Jewish people, which explains Maimonides’ formulation “It is mandatory upon the whole house of Israel to sanctify this Great Name.” Meaning, sanctifying God’s name pertains to the entire house of Israel. Kiddush Hashem is not for God, but a great opportunity for a perfected person to teach mankind how perfect God is in His creations, and how perfect is His Torah system. We grasp how life has no relevance if we assume false notions of God (idolatry) or if we cave to our instincts of ego or lust. In place of sinning in these 3 areas, we accept death as the better decision.