Sanctifying Hashem's Name

Exegetical Approaches

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Though the verse "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל" has been used by many as the source of the commandment to sanctify Hashem's name, commentators disagree whether it in fact constitutes an obligation at all and regarding what sanctification of Hashem means. Ibn Ezra claims that the phrase contains no directive to act and simply describes the consequence of proper priestly actions.  Rambam and R. D"Z Hoffmann, in contrast, maintain that the verse constitutes a general commandment which admonishes the Children of Israel to be careful in observance and behavior so that others will laud and recognize Hashem's holiness.  Finally, many sources do view the verse as the source for the obligation of martyrdom, but they disagree as to which circumstances are included.

Result of Observance

The words "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל" describe a result of the sanctification of Hashem's name, but do not constitute an obligation to perform a specific action.

Passive form of "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" – The passive form of the word "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" supports this position, suggesting that the sanctification is a consequence rather than a command.
Who will sanctify Hashem's name?
  • The priests – According to Ibn Ezra and Abarbanel, the verse is directed at the priests.  Ibn Ezra asserts that if they adhere to the sacrificial laws which immediately precede this passage (not slaughtering a mother and son together and properly offering thanksgiving sacrifices), then Hashem's name will be sanctified.  Abarbanel relates the sanctification more broadly to general observance by the priests.
  • The nation – According to R. Yochanan in the Bavli and the Netziv, the verse refers to the public sanctification of Hashem's name (through the recital of "דברים שבקדושה") by a quorum of ten Israelites ("בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל").
  • Hashem Himself – Seforno maintains that if the people do not profane Hashem's name through improper or debased conduct, then Hashem will perform miracles for them and sanctify Himself in their midst.
What does it mean to "sanctify Hashem"? According to most of these sources, it appears that Hashem is sanctified by the nation's recognition of His glory. Thus, Abarbanel says that proper priestly conduct leads the rest of the nation to honor and fear Hashem, and Seforno explains1 that Hashem will be glorified by the people's witnessing of His wondrous deeds.
Context of Vayikra 22:31-33 – These sources differ in their understandings of how the verse of "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" connects to its surrounding context:
  • Closes unit beginning in 22:26 – Ibn Ezra views the verses as ending the immediately preceding unit (Vayikra 22:26-30), which he believes is directed at the priests.2  It thus parallels several variations of "וְלֹא יְחַלֵּל.. כִּי אֲנִי י"י מְקַדְּשָׁם" which appear throughout the chapter3 which similarly serve to remind the priests to be careful not to profane Hashem and His sanctity.
  • Closes Chapters 21-22 – Abarbanel may instead view the verses as the summation of the larger unit of Chapters 21-22 which speak of priestly laws and the Mikdash.  As mentioned, these chapters contain the recurring motif "וְלֹא יְחַלֵּל.. כִּי אֲנִי י"י מְקַדְּשָׁם".  Vayikra 22:31-33 with its addition of "וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם מִצְוֺתַי" and "הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם" would be an expanded version of this refrain, as befitting a conclusion.
  • Closes unit beginning in 22:17 – Seforno might take a middle position, suggesting that verses 22:31-33 conclude the unit beginning 22:17.  In contrast to the earlier units in Chapters 21-22 which were directed at the priests only, the second half of Chapter 22 is addressed to both the priest and the nation ("דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל בָּנָיו וְאֶל כׇּל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל"), allowing for the possibility that 22:31-33, too, is directed at everyone.
  • Connected to Chapter 23 – The Netziv uniquely suggests that all of verses 22:26-33 are connected not to what precede them, but rather to what follow: the laws of the festivals.4 This enables him to suggest that 22:31 speaks of sanctification of Hashem during public prayers, such as those recited during the pilgrimage festivals.5
Relationship to the prohibition of "וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קׇדְשִׁי"
  • According to Ibn Ezra, Abarbanel, and Seforno, this is an active command (aimed at either the priests6 or the nation7), the observance of which results in Hashem's sanctification.8
  • In contrast, according to the Netziv, there is no connection between "וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ" and "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" except that they are both connected to the festivals.  "וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ" represents a warning not to behave inappropriately when celebrating, as often happened in pagan rituals and celebrations.
Sources for martyrdom – According to this position, "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" does not constitute the source for an obligation of martyrdom.  Thus, following various Rabbinic sources,9 the Netziv derives the obligation to forfeit one's life rather than transgress the three cardinal sins of idolatry, illicit relations, and murder from the entirely separate verse of "וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת י"י אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכׇל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכׇל נַפְשְׁךָ".‎10

Positive Behavior

The phrase "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל" is a general commandment which obligates people to behave in a manner which will sanctify God's name.

Passive form of "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" – The passive form is difficult for this approach, as one would expect a command to be formulated in the imperative. These sources might suggest that the command is simply implied,14 perhaps similar to the statement "I am the Lord your God..." which (despite its lack of an imperative form) is understood by many to constitute the source of the obligation to know or believe in Hashem.15
What type of behavior sanctifies Hashem's name?
  • Performing commandments purely out of love – Rambam asserts that a person sanctifies Hashem's name when he observes His commandments purely out of love without an ulterior motive.  This would suggest that sanctification can be internal as no one else is aware of the individual's thoughts.
  • Actions that cause others to praise – Rambam also claims that if a person behaves in a way that leads others to praise him, such as having a pleasant demeanor, good manners and speech,16 he thereby sanctifies Hashem's name.  This points to an external understanding of sanctification, as an act that leads others to glorify Hashem.
  • General upright behavior – R. Saadia Gaon and R. D"Z Hoffmann speak more generally about being upright in every action, observing Hashem's commandments, and being subservient to Him.17 
Context of Vayikra 22:31-33 – As the immediate context of these verses relates specifically to priestly laws, the sudden shift to speak of commandments relating to the broader behavior of the nation at large requires explanation.  R. D"Z Hoffmann thus suggests that 22:31-33 serves as a summation for the much larger unit of the Holiness laws which stretches from Chapter 19 through 22.18  According to him, the general command of "וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם מִצְוֺתַי וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם" in verse 3119 proves that the entire concluding pericope is connected to more than only the immediately preceding cultic law unit.
Relationship to the prohibition of "וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קׇדְשִׁי" – Rambam and R. Hoffmann view the two commandments as flip sides of a coin, the only difference being the positive or negative formulation.  As such, desecration of Hashem's name would include sinning purely to spite or anger Hashem, behaving in a way which brings disrepute to Hashem, or general negligence in observance.
Sources for martyrdom – Similar to the first approach, this position could also derive the obligation of martyrdom from the separate verse of "וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת י"י אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכׇל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכׇל נַפְשְׁךָ".


"וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל" mandates the forfeiting of one's life to avoid transgressing commandments in certain situations.

Passive form of "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" – Like the second approach, this position must maintain that "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" is an anomalous commandment which is not formulated in the imperative.
Context – As nothing in the adjacent verses speaks of martyrdom, these sources struggle to explain the placement of the commandment. R. David HaKokhavi suggests that the context of sacrifices teaches that though animal sacrifices generally substitute for human sacrifice, there are certain exceptional circumstances in which the Torah demands the actual sacrifice of human life for Hashem's honor.
What is included? These sources disagree under which circumstances and for which commandments the command "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" obligates forfeiture of one's life:
  • All commandments, but only in public – Most of these sources maintain that the command only speaks of the need to forfeit one's life when asked to transgress a commandment in public, "בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל". This suggest that sanctification of Hashem relates to His glorification by others, and thus, by definition, requires witnesses.
  • Also the three cardinal sins, even in private – Rambam in his Iggeret HaShemad and Mishneh Torah goes further to also include the sins of idolatry, illicit relations and murder, even without witnesses.20  Rambam might suggest that the phrase "בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל" describes who is obligated (Jews rather than non-Jews),21 rather than who must be present.  According to this view, sanctification of Hashem might be an internal, rather than external act.  A person sanctifies Hashem by his individual recognition of the primacy of Hashem's commandments and valuing them over his own life.
  • Only the sin of idolatry in public – R. Yishmael and Rambam in his Sefer HaMitzvot22 go in the opposite direction, limiting the obligation to the sin of idolatry in a public setting. This position might view sanctification as a declaration of faith,23 in which case the narrowing of the scope of martyrdom to idolatry is logical.
Other sources for martyrdom – The majority of sources which maintain that "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" does not include forfeiting one's life for the three cardinal sins in private differ regarding the source for this obligation:
  • Variety of sources – Bavli Sanhedrin24 suggests that idolatry can be derived from "וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת י"י אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכׇל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכׇל נַפְשְׁךָ", while murder is learned from a logical deduction25 and illicit relations via an inference (היקש) from the laws of murder.
  • Severity of sinR. David, following R. Acha in Tosefta Shabbat, suggests that due to the severity of these sins, they never fell under the general leniency of "וָחַי בָּהֶם"‎,26‎ and thus their original prohibition remains in effect even in private.27
  • No source or obligation – This position could also say that there is no obligation of martyrdom in private even for the three cardinal sins.
What is learned from "וְאָהַבְתָּ"? Rambam understands this to be an intellectual commandment, a striving to know and love God, which contains no obligation to act on that love.28 Ramban, in contrast, views it as an act of self sacrifice. Each is consistent with their understanding of the sources for the obligation of martyrdom discussed above. See Ahavat Hashem for elaboration on each position.
Relationship to the prohibition of "וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קׇדְשִׁי"
  • Rambam and Ralbag views the two commandments as two halves of a whole, one being the negative formulation of the other.29
  • Ramban, however, disconnects "וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ" and "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי" suggesting that the former relates to the immediate context of sacrificial worship and is an admonition to the nation to be careful in those laws.