by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – April 12, 2011
Towards the end of the Torah section of Acharei, we find the prohibition of giving one’s children over to the pagan worship of Molekh, a form of idolatry that involved handing one’s child to the priest of Molekh who in turn would pass the child through fire – in some cases actually burning the child to death – as an act of worship to the pagan god. The verse prohibiting this act states, “You shall not present any of your children to pass through for Molekh, and you will not profane the Name of your G-d, I am the L-rd” (Vayikra 18:21). Apparently, besides the actual prohibition involving idolatry, there is a prohibition of desecrating the Name of G-d.
As regards the desecration of G-d’s name connected to the worship of Molekh, Nachmanides explains that it will be a desecration when the gentile nations will hear that Jews honor their G-d by only offering animal sacrifices, but that they honor Molekh by offering their children.
In his Sukkat David, R. David Kviat notes that the idea that one can desecrate G-d’s Name by exhibiting more respect to some other area in life than to the Master and Creator of the World is far less foreign to us than the worship of Molekh. In fact, one can be guilty of this even without engaging in such worship.
In the prophetic book of Shmuel (Shmuel I, chapters 4-6), we read of the Philistines’ capture of the Holy Ark. While with the Philistines, the Ark wreaked havoc upon them, leading them to send it back to the Israelites. Upon its initial return, a plague broke out in the land of Israel, befalling the residents of Beit Shemesh. The Midrash explains that the residents of Beit Shemesh were punished because they were more concerned at the loss of their hens than the capture of the Ark – an awful desecration of G-d’s Name akin to that described by Nachmanides in relation to the worship of Molekh.
The aforementioned desecration of G-d’s Name, R. Kviat notes, is of the type that many of us sadly engage in to some extent, when we do not exhibit the appropriate priorities when manifesting our care and concern. When a window breaks or a floor tile cracks, we get upset. If an animal snuck into our home while we were away leaving a mess in its wake, everyone is “up in arms” – all are upset. The situation in our homeland, on the other hand, should upset us much more. Yet, which concerns us more? Which “gets under our skin” more? Which takes us longer to stop talking about? The broken window or the dangers and tragedies in our homeland? What bothers us more? What upsets us more? What causes us to lose sleep at night?
G-d was upset at the people of Israel for being more concerned about their hens then about the Ark. Reading the Midrash, we may look disparagingly at the people of Beit Shemesh, wondering how they could be more concerned about chickens than about the Holy Ark! Yet, we should look in the mirror and ask ourselves: Are we more concerned about our dining rooms, kitchens and businesses and other trivialities of life than the terrible tragedies that befall our people from day to day in our homeland and without?
Showing greater concern for the former than the latter is what is reflected in the verse, “You will not profane the Name of your G-d, I am the L-rd “. It is a question of priorities. We must demonstrate the proper sense of priorities, for G-d will hold us accountable for our priorities – how we treat Him and that which is close to Him versus how we treat other things.