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Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Child Sacrifice

I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag
I was schooled with a strap right across my back

But it’s all right now 
In fact it’s a gas
But it’s all right 
I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash
It’s a gas, gas, gas
-The Rolling Stones

One of the Torah prohibitions in this week’s parshas is that “One should not pass any of their children to (the god of) Molech.” There is a difference of opinions among Jewish scholars as to what exactly took place during this Molech ceremony. Rambam/Maimonides is of the opinion that it entailed an ancient ritual of parents handing over their child to the Molech priest who would then pass the child between two rows of fire. Ramban/Nachmanides says it went beyond that and that the child was killed as a child sacrifice. 

Child Sacrifice. My guess is that, if you have children, you probably never entertained the notion of sacrificing your child to a god. We don’t run into this problem too much in our society. At least not literally. Figuratively, that’s another story as we shall soon see. 

So why would anyone in their right mind wish to do such a thing? Sefer HaChinuch, a 13th century work by an unknown author that summarizes all 613 commandments, offers an idea. He says that the prohibition specifically applies to someone who has more than one child. The Molech priests would assure the parents that by sacrificing one of their children, it would guarantee the success of the rest of the kids and that blessing and goodness would come to the family. So the idea is that by giving up one of their kids to this idol, it will in turn benefit everybody else. 

Yeah, pretty sick. But when you think about it, is it really so different than Palestinians, for instance, who encourage their children to dangerously engage the IDF and confront them by throwing rocks and rioting against a much better equipped soldier? And if something happens and the child is killed, well so be it, he becomes a shaheed, dying for holy jihad and thereby bringing blessing on the rest of his family. Not only that but wealth as well in the form of payments from the Palestinian Authority who will pay the family handsomely in perpetuity. So it’s really not that much different than the ancient Molech practice: Sacrifice one child for the so-called greater good of the rest.  

But what about something closer to home? Any Molech-like activities happening in the suburbs of Weston or Boca Raton? How about when parents have their children do things that are really not in the child’s interest but moreso in the interest of the parent? Because that’s what Molech is all about according to the Sefer HaChinuch isn’t it? Discarding the needs and good of the child for the needs and good of others such as Mom, Dad and siblings. 

I am not talking about telling your kid they must go to school, brush their teeth and make their bed. But forcing them into activities, life-styles, sports and the like that the child hates and wants no part of – but must do because that is what the parents force them to do based on what society dictates to be good and true. A parent has to be pretty honest to see if they are influencing their child according to the good of that child, or maybe using the kid as a means for unfulfilled dreams and aspirations the parents have for themselves. That too can be construed as Molech-like behavior.

And then there is sacrificing a child on the altar of progressive ideologies. Is it maybe Molech-like if a young child who is 8-years-old, let’s say, wishes to transition from one gender to another and the parents acquiesce? Should we take seriously that desire of such a young person? Respect their wishes? Yes, according to a prevailing attitude in some circles which is considered progressive and enlightened. 

I don’t know about you, but when I grew up and a little kid said they didn’t want to brush their teeth, go to bed on time, not do homework or stay out late at night with friends without parental supervision, they were told to brush their teeth, get to bed, do their homework and be back home by dinner. An 8-year-old’s wishes which are not in his or her interest were not respected for the simple fact that he or she is 8-years-old! He or she has very little inkling about their own future good at that age and it’s the job of the parent to enforce that, not to indulge it. 

But today some parents do because that is the prevailing ideology that is being taught in academia and professed as the gospel truth in the media and some schools. Common sense had become lost to the virtual-signaling of progressive parents who wish to fully embrace this new ideology, no matter what long-term consequences it may have for their child.  

But wait a moment. What’s the difference, you will ask, between raising your children to follow the Torah and Mitzvot, sending them to Jewish schools and yeshivot? Isn’t that also brainwashing them into the parent’s particular ideology? Aren’t we also sacrificing them on an altar of our personal beliefs? 

Perhaps. But I would rather go with a philosophy and way of life that has positively influenced the world with its Judeo-Christian (read: Jewish) values for thousands of years versus some new-fangled unproven notion. Jewish values and traditions might not be perfect and work for everyone, but it’s better than offering my child up as a sacrificial guinea pig to some new-fad morality and experiment, and see how it turns out 20 years down the line. 

Yes, Molech was pretty barbaric and thankfully we don’t have too many card-carrying Molech members these days. At least not in a technical and literal sense. But figuratively, it’s not so uncommon when parents put their own needs, reputations and societal standing before the good of their child. 

It’s our job as parents to be vigilant and to make sure these Molech-like viewpoints and practices don’t infiltrate our holy and precious families and children. And the best way of ensuring that is to fill them with long-standing traditions, customs, Torah and Mitzvot that have served our people well for thousands of year. 

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