Sanctifying the Name

Renée Falconetti in “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” 1928
Carl Theodor Dreyer, Director

Sanctifying the Name

Christians have the concept of martyrdom, from a term of Greek  derivation that means witness.  The martyr refuses to renounce her faith despite all that the world can throw against it.

The corresponding Jewish figure does something called “sanctifying the Name.”  God is sometimes simply called “the Name” (Hashem).  A worthy action sanctifies the Name, whereas acting in an unworthy manner desecrates the Name.  To suffer for God’s sake – where the alternative would desecrate the Name – is not enviable.  Nobody seeks it.  But it is a kind of spiritual promotion.

To illustrate: a midrash (teaching story) has Moses asking God,

         “Who now [in 135 CE] best understands me?”

         “Akiba,” God replies and takes Moses across the centuries to where he can see Akiba, who is just then being flayed alive by the Romans.  “You see,” says God, pointing him out.  “That is how I treat My friends.”

         “That’s why You have so few of them,” Moses mutters.

The story is ironic in the Jewish manner, but its meaning is straightforward.  Akiba is God’s friend!  On the ladder of human aspiration, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Last week, I wrote here about a distance healing but neglected to mention one thing that the healer noticed.  It was a “wound” I’d suffered that hurt me deeply.  She called it “an ambush.”  As I replayed the recording of what she sensed during that hour, the word ambush stood out.  Suddenly I knew what she meant.  In my whole life, only one experience had that character.

Readers who’ve followed this column for a few years will remember that I’d been the target (though not the only target) of a rejected-sexual-predator-turned-harasser.  Nowadays, this drama plays out in many settings.  In the case I’d lived through, it took place within an institution designed to serve as God’s home.  As to the identity of the bad actor, the leadership had other testimony, and would not have needed mine in order to proceed to take proper action.  Nevertheless, over time I was prodded to come forward and name names.  Eventually, once I learned that other women had been targeted too, I did decide to make this a fight in earnest – no matter the cost in time, energy, and health.   The leadership did finally oust the predator.  At the time it did so, I was suddenly accused of putting the institution at risk of a lawsuit.  I don’t know who the plaintive was supposed to be.  The predator had no grounds to sue.  I had a long track record of supporting the institution and had been working in this instance to protect it.

The details of the leadership’s accusation against me were loftily withheld, but its betrayal of my trust hurt me profoundly and continued to do so long after the predator had been ousted and a new regime put in place.  No apology to me was ever tendered, nor any word of appreciation for my long fight – which had been for the honor of all concerned.  Rather, the leadership’s parting act of disrespect toward me replicated the predator’s disrespect, in another key. 

So the wound remained and festered.

Women do not come forward because the wounds from doing so cut deeper than the predator’s original ones.  The predator operates in broad daylight, often against several women simultaneously, because he counts on this reluctance.

As it happens, I am a rather sensitive soul.  If you kick me around with a heavy boot, my body and mind will know it.  Over the year following this acrid victory, I sought costly cures for the physical and mental symptoms that hung on.  They did not work.  Eventually, a book on post-traumatic stress plus guidance from Martin Buber’s hasidic masters on how-to-forgive-in-the-absence-of- atonement did help.  Finally, I felt released from the kind of experience that intuitively I had known how to dodge through all the sinuosities of professional life, but had not managed to escape in a place where protection should have been a given!

By now, I’d come to think of all that as water under the bridge.  For me to learn that the wound was still treatable — and therefore noticeable — had the effect of reviving the whole story as an unsolved problem.

What did I think about it?  Was the problem “masculinity”?  These yin and yang traits, which may be psychical and spiritual as much as physical, can be lived on a high or a low level.  In the case I’ve been describing, the men had lived their masculinity on a low level.

That said, how am I supposed to live my own verdict?  “That’s life, girl”?  Hey, I’m a philosopher, but not a stoic.  I also have a serious relation with a personal God — who is not just “Cosmic Energy.”  Now I’ve been reminded of the wound’s continued presence.  So what’s left?  Is it enough just to accept the hurt and keep on hurting?

I’m a person who likes happy endings.  I won’t even read Kafka.  For me, shoulder-shrugging isn’t sincere.  It’s another name for the problem itself.  How do you cure what is simply uncured?

I prayed about it.  After all, God must see and suffer many such desecrations of the Name.  How does God handle it?

As I asked these questions, I seemed to float upwards consciously into a sort of congruence with God in this respect. And I saw … what?  It was something that caused me to laugh out loud.

I had suffered, to sanctify the Name!

It was a promotion.

Take heart, girls.  It’s a promotion.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” ( where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to Sanctifying the Name

  1. Abigail says:

    Yes, it’s a concept that can be extended in subtle ways — not always obvious or even visible to onlookers. It lends to life a certain spiritual thickness. Thanks Judy!

  2. Judy says:

    Profound. You made me see clearer what Sanctifying the Name can mean.
    Hmmm. Suffering for what one knows is truth and needs to be acted upon, yes. And am thinking of others ways, not just suffering, that do That too.

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