June 15, 2024
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The Party Shows the Hearty

“Molech” might arguably rank as the most egregious and detestable method of avoda zara. To have one’s very own child burnt alive as an offering…anyone can understand the depth of cruelty. In response to such a horrifying form of worship, in our parsha the Torah (18:21) says, “And from your offspring you shouldn’t give to pass through for Molech, and you shouldn’t profane the name of your God…”

What is the chilul Hashem in this context of worship that the Torah specifies here?

The Seforno explains that since when one brings offerings to Hashem they are from animals, so when one brings his own child as an offering to Molech, this shows that one is putting Molech on a higher pedestal than Hashem, chas v’shalom. Hence, this is a chilul Hashem.

The Torah, highlighting this idea of chilul Hashem, can lead one to wonder: Is this really the way to persuade one not to do such a thing? Wouldn’t it be more effective for the Torah to say don’t do it because it’s murder and it’s terribly cruel?

While it may be a big novelty, and a grain of salt for this one might not be quite enough, nevertheless, perhaps we can suggest that it’s therefore evident that in certain contexts like this, telling someone it’s a chilul Hashem will be more convincing than telling him it’s murder. Why is that so? Perhaps because when there is a strong societal influence and pull toward something—even murder—and if everyone around him is doing it, and even pronounces the belief that it’s objectively righteous, eventually one may not think it’s murder anymore but rather normal, ethical and even a praiseworthy act. Thus, telling him it’s murder may not register because he doesn’t think it’s murder.

However, even amidst such a twisted influence, telling him instead that “by doing this you are showing a greater importance to Molech rather than Hashem”—thus pointing out to him a direct hypocrisy in his actions and belief system—so from an intellectual standpoint one can’t deny the truth, nor can one combat the moral sense of such an argument.

Based on this, if one is tempted toward that which goes against the Torah, it’s one thing to feel emotionally pulled toward it and through that cave in. But there is also a person’s intellect. If a person is giving this act a greater importance than when he serves Hashem, no one wants to be a hypocrite—and thus reminding oneself of this can serve as a defense.

While it may be somewhat understandable if one falls, however, a major focus may be if one shows greater importance to the aveira than he does when he serves Hashem. It’s no longer just the fact that one veered off, but if he did it with a “hashkafa”—a perspective that it’s the right thing to do and it’s objectively good—so then that may no longer be included in the potential understanding of succumbing to temptation, but rather independently stands as an intellectual belief that may go against Hashem’s will, and can be the chilul Hashem the pasuk refers to if it outweighs the level of importance he gives to Hashem. Moreover, a hashkafa like this can remove the aforementioned defense and thus makes it more difficult to remain firm to the Torah’s values.

By the incident of the Golden Calf—perhaps one of our greatest, if not the greatest, national falling—when Moshe came down the mountain, the pasuk says “…he [Moshe] drew closer to the camp and saw the calf and the dances, and Moshe’s anger was kindled, and he threw the luchot from his hands…” (Shemot, 32:19). The Torah highlighting “the dances”—the celebration—implies that Moshe only felt compelled to break the luchot after he saw not just the calf, but also the celebration. Shouldn’t the making of the calf itself have been enough? What is significant about the dancing and celebration?

R’ Yaakov Kaminetzky (Emes L’Yaakov, Ki Tisa, 32:1,19) explains that Moshe at first wanted to justify their making of the calf! Moshe thought that perhaps they reached a state of fear due to the fact that they thought their leader, Moshe himself, was no longer with them. (Indeed, they miscalculated Moshe’s ETA from the mountain and thought he perished.) Since they knew it was in Moshe’s merit that they were given the manna, how would they and their children now survive without him? Therefore, Moshe was able to understand why Jews would desperately feel the need to have a leader and hence why they made the calf, and he felt this was somewhat of a justification. Hence, seeing the calf alone was not Moshe’s “breaking point.” However, Moshe then saw that they didn’t just make a calf, but they were dancing! Moshe might have let it slide if it was just the calf, but once he saw the dancing he decided it was time to break the luchot.

We see from here that the actual transgression of the calf wouldn’t have been enough for the breaking of the luchot, but only once it was coupled with the fact that they celebrated.

But we can ask, what’s the big deal if they showed their dance moves? Why is the celebratory aspect so severe that it was the other half of what contributed to the breaking of the luchot? Yet, based on the above we can explain that it’s one thing to fall and go down the wrong path, but when it’s accompanied with a “hashkafa”—a perspective that “this is important, and it’s actually a great thing”—that is an aspect that is divorced from the temptation to transgress but rather shows where a person is holding in his beliefs. If they felt relieved by the making of the calf, that might make sense, but the celebration perhaps showed that they gave more importance to this act than when it came to serving Hashem. Indeed, the party showed where their hearts were, and perhaps this was a chilul Hashem significant enough to cause the breaking of the luchot.

“Ein tzaddik ba’aretz asher ya’aseh tov v’lo yecheta”—“there’s no righteous person who does good and doesn’t [ever] transgress” (Kohelet, 7:20). Falling happens, and while we try our utmost to stay up, we sometimes may fall. Yet, a primary focus may be whether in that moment there was a sense of importance given in that context more than the importance one gives when serving Hashem.


Binyamin can be reached at [email protected].

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