Parashat Ahare Mot/Kedoshim: Keeping Hashem’s Presence Among Us
The Torah in Parashat Ahareh-Mot (18:21) commands, "Do not give over any of your offspring to be passed to Molech." As Rashi explains, "Molech" was a cruel pagan ritual whereby parents would bring their child to a priest who then passed the child through fire, burning him alive. The Torah returns to this subject later, in Parashat Kedoshim (20:1-5), where it says that practicing the Molech ritual is punishable by death, because a person who gives his child to Molech has the effect of "defiling My Sanctuary" ("Tameh Et Mikdashi").
The obvious question arises, while we clearly recognize the grievousness of such an act – killing one’s child as a religious ritual – how does this have the effect of defiling the Bet Ha’mikdash? What does the Bet Ha’mikdash have to do with the Molech ritual?
Rav Abraham Saba (1440-1508), in his Seror Ha’mor commentary, explains that people would bring their children to Molech because they felt that offering animal sacrifices is not a sufficient expression of submission and subservience to G-d. Such people show disdain for the Bet Ha’mikdash, figuring that the sacrifices offered there are inadequate. Therefore, they indeed "defile" the Bet Ha’mikdash, in that they look down upon the service performed there and insist that they need to do something else that they feel is better.
Rashi, however, explains differently. He writes that the word "Mikdashi" in this verse refers not to the Bet Ha’mikdash, but rather to the Jewish Nation, which is, in Rashi’s words, "Mekudeshet Li" – "sacred to Me." Sacrificing one’s child to Molech, according to Rashi, defiles not the Bet Ha’mikdash, but rather the Jewish People.
The Ramban (Rav Moshe Nahmanides, Spain, 1194-1270) elaborates further on this concept. He cites a comment in the Midrash that if one eats without reciting a Beracha, he steals not only from G-d – who owns the entire universe, and from whom we must thus request permission before deriving benefit from the world – but also from the Jewish Nation. The Ramban explains that by reciting a Beracha, we contribute to the presence of the Shechina in our world. When we recite a Beracha, acknowledging that G-d is the source of everything we have in this world, we add to His presence among us. And so when we fail to recite a Beracha, the Ramban explains, we cause the Shechina to leave the world, to some degree, and in this sense, we "steal" from Am Yisrael, diminishing from G-d’s presence among us. The Ramban adds that if a person takes his most precious possession of all, his child, and sacrifices him to Molech, instead of raising him as a loyal member of our nation who faithfully serves Hashem, he causes the Shechina to depart, and in this sense, he "defiles" the Jewish Nation, leaving them bereft of G-d’s presence.
While at first it might appear that this law has no relevance to us today, as nobody would ever imagine offering their child as a sacrifice, in truth, this law conveys a vitally important message for us even now. The "Molech" of our day and age is the culture of the society around us. This culture is like fire, as it "consumes" a child’s spiritual spark, his potential for Kedusha. Parents who fail to provide their children with a strong Torah education in effect surrender them to the modern-day "Molech," to the spiritually destructive forces of the society. This harms not only the children themselves, and not only the family, but all Am Yisrael. The entire Jewish Nation is affected when a precious child’s spiritual potential is "burned" and lost to us. Parents bear an obligation not only to their children, and not only to themselves, but to all Am Yisrael, to raise their children according to our sacred tradition so they can fully maximize their potential and do their part to keep Hashem’s presence among us.