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Any person who gives his child… to the (Canaanite idolatry) Molech shall die… and I (G-d) will set Myself against that man and cut him off from his people… (20:2-3)
The Canaanite Molech worship incorporated the sacrifice of the nearest and dearest - one's own children. Sforno explains that this form of worship is the most contemptible of all idolatry. That the Israelite who serves Molech brings his animal offerings to the G-d's Temple, is all the more glaring when his own children - who are most precious - are terminated for that end.
Yet this stands in contrast to the story of the Akeida - the binding of Isaac. There, G-d commands Abraham to do a similar thing: 'Take your son... Isaac, and offer him up as a burnt offering' (Gen. 22:2). But here, G-d condemns such conduct as the very worst thing a person may do.
It may be argued that these two extracts throw light on each other in the following way. It can be compared with a driving instructor who teaches his student how to make an emergency stop. That movement is potentially dangerous, as it can cause a fatal pile-up accident from behind, and it addition, it does the brakes little good. But a learner-driver does have to know how to cope with it. So the instructor says: 'When I tap on the window, imagine a child has just run in front, and stop the car at once.' After the trainee driver does that successfully, he says: 'Thank you. I shall not ask you to do that again'. So the trainee driver carries on as normal even if the instructor drums his fingers on the plate glass.
Even in this day and age, people look for short cuts to greatness. And sometimes they believe they hear 'voices' telling them to do all types of bizarre acts against humanity and indeed common sense. Thus he that sacrificed his child to Molech believed he was answering the highest calling. (Often people comment that more harm is done by those claiming to be good than those saying they're doing bad.) That will show that he lives for G-d and does what He says without question.
But the two extracts complement each other. 'Take your son... Isaac, and offer him up as a burnt offering' was addressed in one very particular situation: 'After these things, G-d tested Abraham' (Gen. 22:1). It was precisely that - at test of Abraham at a very particular juncture of his life, and at a specific point of the birth of the Israelite nation. It is not something for everyone at every time. Nor, by extension, is obnoxious-to-others, 'holier-than-thou behaviour justified by having 'heard voices', or answering a 'call' in any form.
That casts light on the final verse: 'You shall sanctify yourself and be holy' - that your moral compass bearing should be of such a spiritual level that you know what is the right thing to do and what is the wrong thing to do (20:7). That is worked towards through genuine Torah learning and mitzvah observance.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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