Sanctuary for the Abused

Thursday, March 01, 2007


by Rabbi Mark Dratch

Victims of abuse are often told by others to keep their secrets. They are warned that making their abuse public would be a shonda (a shame and embarrassment) for the Jewish community, for their families, and for themselves. Even worse, they are told that going public is a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s Name. And this warning is used as a tool to silence those who need to speak.

It is unfathomable that concerns for God’s reputation would condemn a victim of abuse to a life of suffering. What really is hillul Hashem, the desecration of God’s Name?

Hillul Hashem and its corollary, Kiddush Hashem (the sanctification of God’s Name), are predicated on the idea that our behavior has consequences. How we act makes a difference. And it matters not only to the people around us and not only to our own reputations, but it matters to God and His reputation as well. Our duty as Jews, as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” is to bring the world closer to a recognition and appreciation of God. We are God's representatives to the world, and all that we do impacts upon how others view Him. We are responsible, through our actions, to make God beloved by others,1 and to glorify His honor in their eyes. Thus, the Torah is concerned about Kiddush Hashem (the sanctification of God's Name) and Hillul Hashem (the desecrating of His Name):
"And you shall not desecrate My holy Name but I shall be sanctified amongst the Children of Israel" (Lev. 22:32).
Although nothing that we do can violate God's ultimate sanctity, everything we do can affect His Name (read: reputation).

While this discussion will focus on human activity that affects the sanctity of God’s Name, it is worth noting that God Himself is also responsible for His own reputation, and He too is capable of committing both kiddush and hillul Hashem.2

Moses convinced God to forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf by raising the threat that such divine punishment will have on His reputation:
“What will the Egyptians say?” And Ezekiel said that it is God who personally desecrated His own Name when He exiled the Jewish people from its land."3
Although the concepts of kiddush Hashem and hillul Hashem are most often discussed in relation to the obligation, in extraordinary circumstances, to sacrifice one's life for the sake of God and His Torah,4 we will focus on the significance of kiddush Hashem and hillul Hashem in less ultimate, yet equally consequential, situations, one's daily conduct, and then turn our attention to its significance in exposing abuse and abusers.

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