Sunday, April 25, 2010

Parshat Emor - “The Story Behind the Story”

Parshat Emor
Rabbi Ari Kahn


“The Story Behind the Story”

Parshat Emor primarily teaches law[1]: Laws concerning the Kohanim, and laws regarding the various festivals, make up the majority of the Parsha. There is a short narrative section at the end of the Parsha, which itself introduces more law, then returns to narrative:

ויקרא פרק כד, י-כג
וַיֵּצֵא בֶּן אִשָּׁה יִשְׂרְאֵלִית וְהוּא בֶּן אִישׁ מִצְרִי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּנָּצוּ בַּמַּחֲנֶה בֶּן הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית וְאִישׁ הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי: וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת הַשֵּׁם וַיְקַלֵּל וַיָּבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְשֵׁם אִמּוֹ שְׁלֹמִית בַּת דִּבְרִי לְמַטֵּה דָן: וַיַּנִּיחֻהוּ בַּמִּשְׁמָר לִפְרֹשׁ לָהֶם עַל פִּי ה’:
וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: הוֹצֵא אֶת הַמְקַלֵּל אֶל מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וְסָמְכוּ כָל הַשֹּׁמְעִים אֶת יְדֵיהֶם עַל רֹאשׁוֹ וְרָגְמוּ אֹתוֹ כָּל הָעֵדָה: וְאֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל תְּדַבֵּר לֵאמֹר אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי יְקַלֵּל אֱלֹהָיו וְנָשָׂא חֶטְאוֹ: וְנֹקֵב שֵׁם ה’ מוֹת יוּמָת רָגוֹם יִרְגְּמוּ בוֹ כָּל הָעֵדָה כַּגֵּר כָּאֶזְרָח בְּנָקְבוֹ שֵׁם יוּמָת: וְאִישׁ כִּי יַכֶּה כָּל נֶפֶשׁ אָדָם מוֹת יוּמָת: וּמַכֵּה נֶפֶשׁ בְּהֵמָה יְשַׁלְּמֶנָּה נֶפֶשׁ תַּחַת נָפֶשׁ: וְאִישׁ כִּי יִתֵּן מוּם בַּעֲמִיתוֹ כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה כֵּן יֵעָשֶׂה לּוֹ: שֶׁבֶר תַּחַת שֶׁבֶר עַיִן תַּחַת עַיִן שֵׁן תַּחַת שֵׁן כַּאֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן מוּם בָּאָדָם כֵּן יִנָּתֶן בּוֹ: וּמַכֵּה בְהֵמָה יְשַׁלְּמֶנָּה וּמַכֵּה אָדָם יוּמָת: מִשְׁפַּט אֶחָד יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כַּגֵּר כָּאֶזְרָח יִהְיֶה כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיּוֹצִיאוּ אֶת הַמְקַלֵּל אֶל מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וַיִּרְגְּמוּ אֹתוֹ אָבֶן וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשׂוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֶת מֹשֶׁה:
And the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel; and this son of the Israelite woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp. And the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the name of God, and cursed. And they brought him to Moshe; and his mother’s name was Shlomit, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. And they put him in custody, that they might make a decision according to God's Will.
And God spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘Banish the person who has cursed from the camp; and let all who heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation pelt him with stones. And you shall speak to the People of Israel, saying, “Whoever curses his God shall bear [the consequences of] his sin. And he who blasphemes the name of God shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him; as well the stranger, as he who is born in the land, when he blasphemes the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. …You shall have one kind of law for the stranger, as for one of your own country; for I am the Almighty your God.’ And Moshe spoke to the People of Israel, that they should bring forth him who had cursed out of the camp, and pelt him with stones. And the People of Israel did as God commanded Moshe. (Vayikra 24:10-23)

While the law of the “blasphemer” is certainly important, both the context and the style in which this law is transmitted raise questions: are somewhat irregular. The law is told in the form of a narrative, rather than in the dispassionate legalistic form of the surrounding text in this Parsha and elsewhere in the Torah. Even if we assume that the narrative style is crucial to the transmission of this law, the narrative itself is somewhat irregular: Why is this story told here? There seems to be nothing within the episode to indicate that it transpired at the particular time and place in which it is inserted into the text. Furthermore, why is the identity of the blasphemer revealed? When compared to other incidents of individual sinners in the desert, such as the wood-gatherer, this seems a departure from the norm.[2] Finally, what was so unique about this case that Moshe found it necessary to consult with God in order to clarify the law? A closer examination of the events and the individuals involved in this incident may help us understand why the story is told at this juncture.

The blasphemer is described as the son of an Egyptian man and an Israelite woman. By making this identification the Torah seems to be pointing out that his problematic lineage plays no small role in his sin: The curse he utters springs from his Egyptian blood.[3] The reader is subtly referred back to Paroh’s impudent question, “Who is God, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I do not know God, nor will I let Israel go.” (Sh’mot 5:3). And yet, the Torah goes beyond a general statement of his lineage, and supplies us with the name of his mother; there must be something even more specific that we are meant to learn from this uncharacteristic detail. In fact, the rabbis go even farther, and identify the Egyptian father of the blasphemer.

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשת אמור פרשה לב:ד
והוא בן איש מצרי: רבנן ור' לוי. רבנן אמרי אעפ"י שלא היו ממזרין באותה שעה הוא היה ממזר; ר' לוי אמר ממזר ברור היה. כיצד? נוגשין היו מצרים ושוטרים היו ישראל נוגש היה ממונה על י' שוטרים ושוטר היה ממונה על י' בני אדם נמצא נוגש ממונה על ק' בני אדם. חד זמן קדם נוגש גבי שוטר א"ל זיל כנוש לי חבורתך כיון שנכנס שחקה לו אשתו אמר דהדין גברא היא. יצא והטמין עצמו לאחורי הסולם כיון שיצא בעלה נכנס וקלקל עמה. הפך לאחוריו וחמתיה נפק מן גו ביתא כיון דידע דחמתיה נפק לגביה והוי מחי ליה כל ההוא יומא וא"ל לעי טבאית לעי טבאית מתכוין בעי למקטלי'. באותה שעה הציץ רוח הקדש במשה הה"ד (שמות ב) "ויפן כה וכה". מהו כה וכה אלא ראה מה עשה לו בבית ובשדה. אמר לו, לא דיו שקלקל עם אשתו אלא שהוא מבקש להרגו! מיד "וירא כי אין איש."
‘Whose father was an Egyptian’ (Vayikra 24: 10). Our rabbis and R. Levi differ on the interpretation. Our rabbis say: Although there were no bastards among them at that time, he was a bastard. R. Levi says: He was definitely a bastard. How is this to be understood? [During their enslavement] the taskmasters were Egyptians and the officers were Israelites. One taskmaster was in charge of ten officers and one officer was in charge of ten men. Thus a taskmaster had charge of a hundred men. On one occasion a taskmaster paid an early visit to an officer and said to him:  ‘Go and assemble me your group.’ When he came in the other's wife smiled at him. He thought: 'She is mine!' So he went out and hid behind a ladder. No sooner had her husband gone out than he entered and misconducted himself with her. The other turned round and saw him coming out of the house. When the taskmaster realized that he had seen him, he went to him and kept beating him all that day, saying to him: 'Work hard, work hard!' The reason was that he wanted to kill him. Thereupon the Divine Inspiration began to stir in Moshe; hence it is written, ‘And he looked this way and that’ (Shmot 2:12). What is the significance of the expression ‘this way and that’?—[Moshe] saw what the taskmaster had done to the officer in the house and in the field. He thought: Not enough that he has misconducted himself with his wife but he must seek to kill him! Instantly, 'When he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian' (ib.). (Midrash Rabbah - Vayikra 32:4)

The father of this man[4] was none other than the abusive taskmaster whom Moshe saw beating the Jewish slave.[5] According to the Midrash, the Egyptian first abused the wife and then attempted to kill the husband. In the course of the abuse of the wife a child was conceived. This child joined the Jewish People and left Egypt with his mother. Now, he has an altercation with another man, and curses God.

We cannot avoid the impression that all three members of this tragic triangle are less-than sterling characters; the Egyptian is clearly the most evil character in the scene, taking advantage of his position of power over those under his thumb. The husband is described as an officer of his fellow slaves; this is not a position to which men were appointed because of their high moral standards or their popularity among the Israelites. This was an abusive position, held by men who were able and apparently willing to force their fellow Jews to obey the Egyptian taskmasters. It is unlikely that he was beloved by his people, nor would any of the Israelites have been likely to go out on a limb in his defense. Nonetheless, even this officer is seen by Moshe as a brother. Moshe's commitment to justice, as well as his commitment to protecting every Jew, was uncompromising, unparalleled. Moshe takes action; he steps in to save this Jewish officer from being beaten to death, killing the Egyptian taskmaster. Later, when Moshe again intercedes to try to stop an altercation between two Jews, his previous action is thrown back in his face:

שמות פרק ב, יג-יד
וַיֵּצֵא בַּיּוֹם הַשֵּׁנִי וְהִנֵּה שְׁנֵי אֲנָשִׁים עִבְרִים נִצִּים וַיֹּאמֶר לָרָשָׁע לָמָּה תַכֶּה רֵעֶךָ:  וַיֹּאמֶר מִי שָׂמְךָ לְאִישׁ שַׂר וְשֹׁפֵט עָלֵינוּ הַלְהָרְגֵנִי אַתָּה אֹמֵר כַּאֲשֶׁר הָרַגְתָּ אֶת הַמִּצְרִי וַיִּירָא מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר אָכֵן נוֹדַע הַדָּבָר:
And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews struggled together; and he said to the one who did the wrong, ‘Why do you strike your fellow?’ And he said, ‘Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?’ And Moshe feared, and said, ‘Certainly this thing is known.’ (Sh’mot 2:13-14)

According to the Midrash, the two who were fighting on the second day were Datan and Aviram, two provocateurs known primarily for their activities in the desert.

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשת שמות פרשה א
"ויצא ביום השני והנה שני אנשים עברים נצים:" זה דתן ואבירם קראם נצים על שם סופם, הם הם שאמרו דבר זה הם היו שהותירו מן המן, הם היו שאמרו (במדבר יד) נתנה ראש ונשובה מצרימה, הם שהמרו על ים סוף, ד"א נצים שהיו מתכוונין להרוג זה את זה, כמה דתימא (דברים כה) כי ינצו אנשים יחדו, ואמר ר"א במצות של מיתה הכתוב מדבר, ויאמר לרשע למה תכה רעך הכית לא נאמר אלא תכה, מכאן שמשעה שאדם מרים ידו להכות חבירו אע"פ שלא הכהו נקרא רשע, רעך, שהוא רשע כיוצא בך מלמד ששניהם רשעים.
And he went out the second day, and behold, two men of the Hebrews were striving together (ib. 13). This refers to Datan and Aviram, whom he calls ’striving’ on account of their subsequent record; for it was they who said this thing; it was they who left over of the Manna; they it was who said: ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt’ (Bamidbar 14:4). It was they who rebelled at the Red Sea. (Shmot Rabba 1:29)

At almost every turn in the desert, whenever trouble brewed, Datan was on the scene, and this midrash informs us that this was nothing new: The two men whom Moshe saw fighting in Egypt were none other than Datan and Aviram. When we add this information to another midrash concerning Datan's background, the scen becomes even more charged: According to the midrash, the reason Datan knew of Moshe having killed the Egyptian in order to save a Jew, was because Datan was that Jew. The Midrash explains that Datan was the husband of Shlomit, the daughter of Dibri.

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשת שמות פרשה א
והיה משה רואה אותו ומביט בו וראה ברוח הקודש מה שעשה בבית וראה מה שעתיד לעשות לו בשדה, אמר ודאי זה חייב מיתה, כמו שכתוב (ויקרא כד) ומכה אדם יומת, ולא עוד אלא שבא על אשתו של דתן על כך חייב הריגה, שנא' (שם /ויקרא/ כ) מות יומת הנואף והנואפת, והיינו דכתיב ויפן כה וכה וגו', ראה מה עשה לו בבית ומה עשה לו בשדה
When Moshe saw this, he knew by means of Divine Inspiration what had happened in the house and what the Egyptian was about to do in the field; so he said: 'This man certainly deserves his death, as it is written (Vayikra 24): ‘And anyone who strikes another person [with mortal blows] shall be put to death’. Moreover, since he cohabited with the wife of Datan he deserves slaying, as it is said (Vayikra 20:10): "Both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death’. Hence does it say: “And he looked this way and that way’(Shmot 2:12); namely, he saw what [the Egyptian] did to [Datan] in the house and what he intended to do to him in the field. (Shmot Rabba 1:28)

One day Datan struggles with the Egyptian taskmaster who wished to kill him; the next day he struggles with another Jew. On both occasions, Moshe intercedes and saves him. Datan, though, is ungrateful, even resentful. This resentment is especially ironic if we consider the debt Datan owed Moshe – his very life.

The two men enmeshed in this triangle are, therefore, unsavory characters: the disgraced husband, Datan, was a "kapo" of sorts, who resented Moshe and challenged his leadership every step of the way. The Egyptian was a cruel taskmaster, a rapist, and a would-be murderer. The third member of the triangle was Shlomit, the daughter of Dibri – Datan's wife, the mother of the blasphemer. What was her role in these sordid episodes? The midrashic material is not of one mind, with various midrashim attributing different degrees of responsibility. The first midrash we examined made a point of her flirtatious behavior:  "When he came in the other's wife smiled at him. Thought he: “She is mine!” While the midrashim do not go so far as to call Shlomit a willing participant, there is most definitely a school of thought that points an accusing finger towards her less-than-modest comportment:  some commentators read something ominous in her name: Shlomit, the daughter of Dibri, implies that she was too talkative, too locquacious, somehow more effusive and outgoing than propriety would dictate.[6] On the other hand, other sources seem to indicate that what transpired was not only without her consent, it was completely without her knowledge!

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשת שמות פרשה א
פעם אחת הלך נוגש מצרי אצל שוטר ישראל ונתן עיניו באשתו שהיתה יפת תואר בלי מום, עמד לשעת קריאת הגבר והוציאו מביתו וחזר המצרי ובא על אשתו והיתה סבורה שהוא בעלה ונתעברה ממנו, חזר בעלה ומצא המצרי יוצא מביתו שאל אותה שמא נגע בך אמרה לו הן וסבורה אני שאתה הוא.
Once an Egyptian taskmaster went to a Jewish officer and set eyes upon his wife who was beautiful without blemish. He waited for daybreak, when he dragged the officer out of his house and then returned to lie down with the woman, who thought that it was her husband, with the result that she became pregnant from him. When her husband returned, he discovered the Egyptian emerging from his house. He then asked her: ‘Did he touch you?’ She replied: ‘Yes, for I thought it was you.’ (Shmot Rabba 1:28)

But even this source is introduced by a more damning statement: Tradition tells us that the Jews remained chaste during the duration of their enslavement. There was one exception:

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשת שמות פרשה א
ומנין שלא נחשדו על הערוה שהרי אחת היתה ופרסמה הכתוב שנאמר (ויקרא כד) ושם אמו שלומית בת דברי.
Whence do we know that they were not suspect of adultery? Because there was only one immoral woman and the Bible published her name, as it is said: ‘And his mother's name was Shlomit, the daughter of Dibri.[7] (Shmot Rabba 1:28)

Although the Midrash tells us that the Egyptian violated her without her knowledge, and ostensibly against her will, the prefacing remarks concerning her immorality belie a less-than flattering attitude toward her. Perhaps both midrashim should be seen as complimenting one another: Shlomit behaved immorally by sending out inappropriate signals to the Egyptian taskmaster, but she was not a willing participant in the results of her own flirtation. We may perhaps discern this same split in the reasoning Moshe employed before deciding to kill the Egyptian: the basis for his "verdict" is a verse concerning adultery, not rape: “Both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”  (Vayikra 20:10).
From a sociological perspective, and in light of what we know from world history, the question of sexuality in a slave society is often extremely complicated: The slaveholder believes that the slaves are property, owned – body and soul – and used at will to satisfy the needs of the privileged class. The slave, on the other hand, often uses sexuality to improve living conditions or to guarantee survival. Slavery thus undermines the most basic relationships, overturning the most basic human rights. Loss of personal dominion over one's body casts a shadow over the ability of men and women of the slave class to form stable relationships, free of mistrust and beyond the suspicion of promiscuity. By the time the Jews are redeemed from slavery, a certain doubt has crept in to the collective consciousness. Not all the Jews were completely confident that their spouses had remained chaste. It is in this  context that the Zohar explains the enigmatic episode at Marah:

זוהר כרך ג (במדבר) פרשת נשא דף קכד עמוד ב
ר' אלעזר פתח ואמר (שמות טו) ויבאו מרתה ולא יכלו לשתות מים ממרה כי מרים הם הא אוקמוה, אמר תווהנא איך בני עלמא לא מסתכלין ולא משתדלין במלין דאורייתא הכא אית לאסתכלא אמאי כתיב הכא שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו, אבל ודאי רזא דמלה דהכא על מייא הוה בגין דמצראי הוו אמרי דבנייהו דישראל הוו מנייהו והוו כמה בישראל דחשדין לאנתתייהו בדא, עד דקודשא בריך הוא מטא לון להאי אתר ובעא למבדק לון מה כתיב ויבאו מרתה וגו', ויצעק אל יי' וגו', אמר קודשא בריך הוא למשה משה מה את בעי הא כמה חבילין קיימין גבייכו הכא ואנא בעינא למבדק הכא נשיהון דישראל כתוב שמא קדישא ורמי למייא ויבדקון כלהון נשי וגוברין ולא ישתאר לעז על בני ועד דיבדקון כלהו הכא לא אשרי שמי עלייהו מיד ויורהו יי' עץ וישלך אל המים דא שמא קדישא ההוא דהוה כותב כהנא למבדק נשיהון דישראל כדין שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו, ואי תימא נשיהון דישראל יאות אינון אמאי, אלא אוף אינון בעיין דלא אסתאבו בנשיהון דמצראי, ונשיהון דישראל לא אסתאבו במצראי כל אינון שנין דהוו בינייהו וכלהו נפקו גוברין ונוקבין זכאין ואשתכחו זרעא דישראל קדישין זכאין כדין קודשא בריך הוא אשרי שמיה בינייהו ועל דא על מיא ודאי שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו אוף הכא במיא בדיק כהנא לאתתא ובשמא קדישא:
Rabbi Eleazar adduced here the verse: “And when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter.... There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them” (Shmot 15: 23-25). ‘I wonder’, he said, ‘how it is that people take so little trouble to understand the words of the Torah. Here, for example, one should really inquire what is the point of the words “There he made for them... and there he proved them”. The inner significance of the water mentioned here is this: The Egyptians claimed to be the parents of the children of the Israelites, and many among the Israelites suspected their wives in the matter. So the Holy One, blessed be He, brought them to that place, where He desired to put them to the test. Thus when Moshe cried to God, he was told: 'Write down the Divine Name, cast it into the water, and let all of them, women and men, be tested, so that no evil report should remain in regard to My children; and until they all be probed I will not cause My Name to rest upon them. Straightway “God showed him a tree, and he cast it into the waters”, the tree being thus identical with the Divine Name the priest has to write for the testing of the wife of an Israelite (who suspects her of infidelity). Thus “There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them”. Now it may be asked: This was properly done for the women, but why include the men? But, indeed, the men also had to be probed to show that they had not contaminated themselves with Egyptian women, in the same way as the women had to be probed to show that they had kept themselves uncontaminated by Egyptian men, all the time they were among them. And all, male and female, were proved to be pure, were found to be the seed of Israel, holy and pure. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, caused His Name to dwell among them. (Zohar, Bamidbar 124b)

As in the sotah ritual, the prerequisite for the Divine Presence to dwell amongst the people was the drinking of bitter water which contained the Divine Name. At Marah, the Jews were given an opportunity to lift the cloud of suspicion that had cast its shadow between husbands and wives. Each and every one was proven to have remained chaste, and husbands and wives were reunited. There was one woman, though, who could not have passed such a test; Shlomit and Datan both knew that her son was the child of the Egyptian taskmaster. Apparently, Shlomit was not tested at Marah. She was no longer married, and therefore was not given the bitter waters to drink.

The various characters in our short but strange narrative are beginning to come into focus: Datan and Shlomit, a worthy match; her son by her Egyptian paramour, and an unidentified individual with whom this son becomes embroiled in strife and fisticuffs.

ויקרא פרק כד, י-כג
וַיֵּצֵא בֶּן אִשָּׁה יִשְׂרְאֵלִית וְהוּא בֶּן אִישׁ מִצְרִי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּנָּצוּ בַּמַּחֲנֶה בֶּן הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית וְאִישׁ הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי:
And the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel; and this son of the Israelite woman and the Israelite man strove together in the camp. (Vayikra 24:10)

What was the root of the controversy?

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשת אמור פרשה לב סימן ג
תני ר' חייא מפרשת יוחסין יצא שבא ליטע אהלו במחנה דן אמרו לו מה לך ליטע אהלך במחנה דן אמר להם מבנות דן אני אמרו לו כתיב (במדבר ב) איש על דגלו באותות לבית אבותם ולא לבית אמותם נכנס לבית דינו של משה ויצא מחוייב עמד וגדף.
R. Hiyya taught: He went out as a result of the section regarding pedigrees. For he came with the intention of pitching his tent in the camp of Dan, so they said to him: ‘What right have you to pitch your tent in the camp of Dan?' Said he to them: 'I am descended from the daughters of Dan.’ 'It is written,' they told him, ' “By their fathers’ houses; every man with his own standard, according to the ensigns” (Bamidbar 2, 2);-- fathers’ but not mothers’ houses.' He appealed to the court of Moshe and lost his case, so he rose and reviled God. (Vayikra Rabba 32:3)

This indeed explains the source of his discontent but not the reason for his altercation with the Israelite. The Zohar explains the reason for the fight and the identity of his antagonist:

זוהר כרך ג (ויקרא) פרשת אמור דף קו עמוד א
 ושם אמו שלומית בת דברי עד כאן סתים שמא דאמיה כיון דכתיב ויקוב נקיב שמא דאימיה, אמר רבי אבא אי לאו דבוצינא קדישא קיימא בעלמא לא ארשינא לגלאה (מכאן ולהלאה) דהא לא אתיהיב מלה דא לגלאה אלא לחברייא דאינון בין מחצדי חקלא (דאי לאו) תיפח רוחיהון דאינון דאתיין לגלאה לאינון דלא ידעי, ת"ח כתיב וינצו במחנה בן הישראלית ואיש הישראלי האי קרא הא אוקימנא אבל דא בר אינתו אחרא דאבוי בעלה דשלומית הוה, וכיון דאתא ההוא מצראה עלה בפלגות ליליא תב לביתא וידע מלה אתפרש מנה ולא אתא עלה, ונטל אינתו אחרא ואוליד להאי ואקרי איש הישראלי, ואחרא בן הישראלית, אי אינון אינצו הכא כחדא מאי קא בעי הכא שמא קדישא ואמאי קלל שמא קדישא, אלא איש הישראלי אמר מלה מאמיה מגו קטטה, מיד ויקוב בן האשה הישראלית, כמה דאת אמר ויקוב חור בדלתו, רזא דמלה נטל ה' דשמא קדישא ולייט לאגנא על אמיה ודא הוא נקיבא דאיהו נקיב ופריש שמא קדישא, ולמחצדי חקלא אתמר,
And his mother’s name, etc.’ Up to this point his mother's name was concealed, but now that he had uttered blasphemy his mother's name is mentioned. Said R. Abba: ‘Were it not that the Sacred Lamp is still alive, I would not reveal this, since it is not meant to be revealed save to those who are among the reapers of the field: a curse on those who want to reveal to those who should not know! The Israelite man mentioned here was the son of another woman, and his father was the husband of Shlomit. When an Egyptian came to her in the middle of the night and he returned home and became aware of it, he separated from her and took another wife. Hence one is called “the Israelite man” and the other “the son of the Israelite woman”. Now if they quarreled, how came the Holy Name to be involved? The reason was that the Israelite man reviled the other's mother, and the latter took the He from the Holy Name and cursed with it to defend his mother; hence the word nakav (lit. hollowed) is used, to show that he separated the letters of the Holy Name. But all this is only for “the reapers of the field”.’ (Zohar Vayikra, 106a)
While certain elements of this Zohar are clearly too obscure to explain, there are some points that we can decipher. These men who fought had something in common – their parents were once married. Moreover, their fathers once fought; both seemed to have inherited contentious constitutions from their respective fathers.

When the son of Shlomit is denied the right to dwell with the tribe of Dan, the son of Datan provokes him. Perhaps possessing the tact and congeniality of his father he calls the formers’ mother a whore. He tells him how his mother cheated on her husband, with a hated Egyptian. He is further told of how Moshe himself intervened and killed his father.[8] Now perhaps this man suspects that he knows why he lost his case, assuming that Moshe would never rule in his favor because of his background. So he curses. He uses the great and awesome name of God to vent his anger, sadness and frustration.

But why curse with the name of God? Why utter the ineffable, - the unspeakable? The Midrash provides the explanation:

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשת שמות פרשה א
ר' נחמיה אומר ראה שאין מי שיזכיר עליו את השם ויהרגנו, ורבנן אמרי ראה שאין תוחלת של צדיקים עומדות הימנו ולא מזרעו עד סוף כל הדורות, כיון שראה משה כך נמלך במלאכים ואמר להם חייב זה הריגה, אמרו לו הן הה"ד וירא כי אין איש שילמד עליו זכות, ויך את המצרי, במה הרגו רבנן אמרי הזכיר עליו את השם והרגו שנאמר הלהרגני אתה אומר
R. Nehemiah says: He saw that there was none who would mention over him God's name and slay him. The Sages said: He saw that there was no hope that righteous persons would arise from him or his offspring until the end of generations. When Moshe saw this, he took counsel with the angels and said to them: ‘This man deserves death.’ They agreed; hence it says: “And when he saw that there was no man” to say a good word for him, “and he smote the Egyptian.” With what did he slay him? … The Rabbis say that he pronounced God's name against him and thus slew him, for it is said: “Do you say to kill me?” (Shmot 2, 14). (Midrash Rabba Sh’mot 1:29)

The method of execution of the Egyptian was by uttering the Divine Name. Now, when the son of the Egyptian utters the Divine Name he is placed in detention, awaiting a Divine directive. It is possible that Moshe’s silence is not due to lack of knowledge, rather to what he may feel is an inappropriate legal decision on his part. A similar phenomenon is discerned in the case of Zimri and Cozbi. Moshe had married a woman from Midyan; why couldn’t Zimri do the same? Of course Moshe knew the response; he sensed, though, that it would be unseemly if it was meted out directly by himself without Divine instruction.[9]

But where did the man learn the ineffable name? The sages say he heard it at Sinai. When God said “I am the Almighty, your God…” the ineffable name was articulated. This man, born of a forbidden union and raised as one of the Jews, a man who witnessed the plagues and the splitting of the sea, who stood at Mount Sinai and saw the heavens open, who saw and heard the Voice of God together with all of Israel, was only able to distill from these experiences the ability to curse. The failure was his own; while it is true that he was most likely livid with rage, emotionally ravaged, utterly humiliated, nonetheless his response indicates a complete breakdown, a total moral failure.

The use he makes of the Divine Name is so different from that of Moshe. When he sees a man abusing his slave, Moshe feels obligated to stop the unjustified beating. Moshe uses the name of God to achieve peace, in much the same way the Divine Name is used at Marah, and in the sotah ritual: There, too, the Name is utilized in order to create peace. The son of the Egyptian did not seem to understand this, or did not wish to understand this. His action is as different as Moshe’s as Zimri’s affair with a Midianite woman differed from Moshe's marriage to Zipporah.

At Sinai, the greatest event in the history of the world, all witnesses should have been transformed, elevated. This man concluded the wrong lesson from Sinai: Instead of truth, understanding and holiness, he walked away with venom.

Perhaps now we also understand why this narrative is taught at this juncture. The next verse is the start of a new Parsha, “B’har”, which tells us what Moshe learned at Sinai:

ויקרא פרק כד:כג
וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיּוֹצִיאוּ אֶת הַמְקַלֵּל אֶל מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וַיִּרְגְּמוּ אֹתוֹ אָבֶן וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשׂוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֶת מֹשֶׁה: פ
ויקרא פרק כה:א
וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר:

And Moshe spoke to the People of Israel, that they should remove the person who had cursed from the camp, and pelt him with stone[s]. And the People of Israel did as God commanded Moshe. (Vayikra 24: 23)
And God spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai, saying… (Vayikra 25:1)

This section stands in stark contrast to the lesson learned by the son of the Egyptian at Sinai. Instead of beauty, he saw emptiness; for him, Sinai was just another hill, the Tablets of Stone only rocks. Rather than allowing what he had seen, heard and experienced to uplift him, instead of using God’s Name for blessings and holiness, he degraded himself by blaspheming and defiling the Holy Name. He took all the great spiritual gifts he had been offered and turned them into something hurtful and vile. In a sense, he "missed the mountain;" perhaps that is why he was stoned.

[1] The only other section of narrative is the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu, however their deaths seems to be introduced in order to teach the laws of holiness which follow the laws of the Mishkan.
[2]  In contrast, the wood-gatherer remains anonymous, though at least one authority identifies him with Zelafhad. See Talmud Bavli Shabbat 96b.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף צו/ב
תנו רבנן מקושש זה צלפחד וכן הוא אומר ויהיו בני ישראל במדבר וימצאו איש וגו' ולהלן הוא אומר אבינו מת במדבר מה להלן צלפחד אף כאן צלפחד דברי רבי עקיבא אמר לו רבי יהודה בן בתירא עקיבא בין כך ובין כך אתה עתיד ליתן את הדין אם כדבריך התורה כיסתו ואתה מגלה אותו ואם לאו אתה מוציא לעז על אותו צדיק
[3]  See Da’at Zekeinim m'Baalei haTosfot on Vayikra 24:10:
דעת זקנים מבעלי התוספות על ויקרא פרק כד פסוק י
והוא בן איש מצרי - הוא גרם לו שברך את השם שדרכן של מצריים לבזות את השם כמו שאמר פרעה לא ידעתי את ה':
[4] According to the Ariz"al (Sha'ar Hapsukim, Emor) the taskmaster was a reincarnation of Kayin. See Explorations, Parshat Bereishit, for a discussion of this idea.
שער הפסוקים - פרשת אמור
הענין הוא, כי זה בן האשה הישראלית, הוא בן האיש המצרי, שהרגו מרע"ה, כנזכר בפרשת שמות. וכבר ידעת, כי המצרי ההוא, היה גלגול הרע, אשר בקין בן אדם, וזה הבן מכח האב נמשך, וגם הוא מן הרע ההוא של קין היה. וז"ס והוא בן איש מצרי, ולכן "ויקלל את השם."
שער הפסוקים - פרשת אמור
 והוא בן איש מצרי שהרגו משה, לפי שהיה בחי' קין, ולכן נתקנא על התאומה יתירה של הבל, והיא האשה הישראלית. והרגו משה, והוא הבל, וזה הבן שלה בא לאגנא על אימיה. וקי"ן בגימטריא אהי"ה במלוי יודי"ן ע"ה, והיא סוד תאומה יתירה, שהיא א' החסירה מן קין, פהות ממספר אהי"ה הנזכר. וגם באהי"ה דיודי"ן אל"ף אחת לבד, והבל שתי תאומות:
[5]  See Explorations, Parshat Bereishit. Moshe was a reincarnation of Hevel: Rather than seeking to kill his brother, Moshe attempts to help his brother, and kills in defense of his brother, in stark contrast to the heinous crime of Kayin. According to the Midrash, Moshe merited prophesy due to this gesture. “G-d then said to him: ‘You have put aside your work and have gone to share the sorrow of Israel, behaving to them like a brother; well, I will also leave those on high and below and only speak with you.’ Hence it is written: And when God saw that he turned aside to see (Shmot 3, 4); because G-d saw that Moshe turned aside from his duties to look upon their burdens, He called unto him out of the midst of the bush.’ (ib.).(Shmot Rabba 1:27)

[6]  See Rashi ad loc.: Shlomit is derived from Shalom – she would say hello to all- and Dibri – she was too talkative and outgoing.
[7]  In his comments on the verses in our present parsha, Rashi labels Shlomit a “whore”. On the other hand, commenting on the verses in Shmot in which Moshe's execution of the Egyptian oppressor is recounted, Rashi states that Shlomit was unaware that the man with whom she was intimate was not her husband. Moreover, whereas her name is not mentioned in Shmot, in Vayikra her name is recorded, which Rashi clearly sees as an indication of her personality; see above, note 6. My conclusion from these conflicting portraits is that Rashi felt her provocative behavior had provoked the assault. While this resolution may not be ‘politically correct’, it may be the only way to resolve the contradictions between Rashi’s two comments.
[8]  Zohar Vayikra 106a  “R. Yitzhak said: Besides insulting his mother, he mentioned that his father was the man whom Moshe had slain.”
[9]  See comments of Rabbenu Bahya ad loc.
רבינו בחיי על ויקרא פרק כד פסוק י
והוא בן איש מצרי - שהרג משה, שהיה נוגש וממונה על בעלה של שלומית:
 בתוך בני ישראל מלמד שנתגייר:
 וינצו במחנה - יש לשאול אם היו שניהם מריבים זה עם זה למה זה יברך את השם על זאת, היה ראוי לו להתרעם על משה או שיכנו ויהרגנו. אבל יתכן לומר כי איש הישראלי ספר לו ענין אביו הנהרג והזכיר לו היאך היתה מיתתו כי משה הרגו בשם המפורש, ולפיכך ויקוב בן האשה הישראלית את השם ויקלל, כלומר את השם ששמע בסיני פירש וקלל. ולפיכך נסמכה פרשת מקלל לפרשת בהר סיני, ולפי שלא רצה לבא אל אהל מועד לפיכך ויביאו אותו אל משה, ולזה לא אמר אל משה ואל כל העדה כמו שנאמר במקושש:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Parshiot Aharei Mot and Kedoshim - Focused Passion

Parshiot Aharei Mot and Kedoshim
Rabbi Ari Kahn

Focused Passion

One of the most horrific pagan rituals practiced in the ancient world, known as Molech, is mentioned - and prohibited - in this week’s Torah reading, both in Parshat Acharei Mot and again in Kedoshim. This was a child-sacrifice ritual, where a child would be passed through fire, and it should come as no surprise that it is prohibited by Torah law. What is surprising, though, is the context in which this law is transmitted:[1]

ויקרא פרק יח, יז-כג
עֶרְוַת אִשָּׁה וּבִתָּהּ לֹא תְגַלֵּה אֶת בַּת בְּנָהּ וְאֶת בַּת בִּתָּהּ לֹא תִקַּח לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָתָהּ שַׁאֲרָה הֵנָּה זִמָּה הִוא: וְאִשָּׁה אֶל אֲחֹתָהּ לֹא תִקָּח לִצְרֹר לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָתָהּ עָלֶיהָ בְּחַיֶּיהָ: וְאֶל אִשָּׁה בְּנִדַּת טֻמְאָתָהּ לֹא תִקְרַב לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָתָהּ: וְאֶל אֵשֶׁת עֲמִיתְךָ לֹא תִתֵּן שְׁכָבְתְּךָ לְזָרַע לְטָמְאָה בָהּ: וּמִזַּרְעֲךָ לֹא תִתֵּן לְהַעֲבִיר לַמֹּלֶךְ וְלֹא תְחַלֵּל אֶת שֵׁם אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲנִי ה’: וְאֶת זָכָר לֹא תִשְׁכַּב מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה תּוֹעֵבָה הִוא: וּבְכָל בְּהֵמָה לֹא תִתֵּן שְׁכָבְתְּךָ לְטָמְאָה בָהּ וְאִשָּׁה לֹא תַעֲמֹד לִפְנֵי בְהֵמָה לְרִבְעָהּ תֶּבֶל הוּא:
Do not commit incest, taking a woman and her daughter; do not [even] take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, since this constitutes incest. Since they are blood relatives, it is a perversion. Do not take a woman and [then take] her sister as a rival to her, to uncover her nakedness, as long as [the first one] is alive. Do not come close to a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is ritually unclean because of her menstruation; this is a sexual offense. Do not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her. Do not give any of your offspring (lit., seed) to be initiated to Molech, so that you do not profane the name of the Almighty: I am God. Do not lie with a male as you would with a female; this is an abomination.  Do not perform any sexual act with an animal to defile yourself with it. Likewise, a woman shall not give herself to an animal and allow it to mate with her; this is a detestable perversion. (Vayikra 18:17-23)

In Parshat Aharei Mot, the law of Molech is sandwiched among a list of sexual prohibitions and perversions. Although the larger headline is a more generic instruction to refrain from the pagan practices of both Egypt and Canaan,[2] the specific sequence within the chapter is puzzling. Conversely, in Parshat Kedoshim, the section begins with Molech, and the prohibition is repeated and discussed in much more detail:

ויקרא פרק כ, א-י
וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: וְאֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל תֹּאמַר אִישׁ אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמִן הַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן מִזַּרְעוֹ לַמֹּלֶךְ מוֹת יוּמָת; עַם הָאָרֶץ יִרְגְּמֻהוּ בָאָבֶן. וַאֲנִי אֶתֵּן אֶת פָּנַי בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא וְהִכְרַתִּי אֹתוֹ מִקֶּרֶב עַמּוֹ כִּי מִזַּרְעוֹ נָתַן לַמֹּלֶךְ לְמַעַן טַמֵּא אֶת מִקְדָּשִׁי וּלְחַלֵּל אֶת שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי: וְאִם הַעְלֵם יַעְלִימוּ עַם הָאָרֶץ אֶת עֵינֵיהֶם מִן הָאִישׁ הַהוּא בְּתִתּוֹ מִזַּרְעוֹ לַמֹּלֶךְ לְבִלְתִּי הָמִית אֹתוֹ: וְשַׂמְתִּי אֲנִי אֶת פָּנַי בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא וּבְמִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ וְהִכְרַתִּי אֹתוֹ וְאֵת כָּל הַזֹּנִים אַחֲרָיו לִזְנוֹת אַחֲרֵי הַמֹּלֶךְ מִקֶּרֶב עַמָּם: וְהַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר תִּפְנֶה אֶל הָאֹבֹת וְאֶל הַיִּדְּעֹנִים לִזְנֹת אַחֲרֵיהֶם וְנָתַתִּי אֶת פָּנַי בַּנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא וְהִכְרַתִּי אֹתוֹ מִקֶּרֶב עַמּוֹ: וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם אֲנִי ה’ מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם: כִּי אִישׁ אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יְקַלֵּל אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ מוֹת יוּמָת אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ קִלֵּל דָּמָיו בּוֹ: וְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִנְאַף אֶת אֵשֶׁת אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִנְאַף אֶת אֵשֶׁת רֵעֵהוּ מוֹת יוּמַת הַנֹּאֵף וְהַנֹּאָפֶת:
And God spoke to Moshe, saying, 'And to the Children of Israel, you shall say: If any person, whether a born Israelite or a proselyte who joins Israel, gives any of his children to the Molech, he must be put to death; the people of the land must pelt him to death with stone[s]. And I will direct My anger (lit., "set My face") against that person, and will cut him off (spiritually) from among his people, because he has given his children to the Molech, thus defiling what is holy to Me (or, My Sanctuary) and profaning My holy name. And if the people of the land hide their eyes from that man, when he gives of his offspring to the Molech, and do not put him to death, then I will set My face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off - and all those that prostitute themselves in this way, following him and prostituting themselves for the Molech - from among their people. If a person turns to the mediums and oracles so as to prostitute himself to their ways, I will direct My anger (set my face) against him, and will cut him off (spiritually) from among his people. Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the Almighty your God. Safeguard My decrees and keep them: I am God who sanctifies you. Any person who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. Since he has cursed his father or his mother, his blood shall be upon him. If a man commits adultery with a married woman, and she is the wife of a fellow Israelite, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. (Vayikra 20:1-10)

In Parshat Aharei Mot (chapter 18), prohibitions are listed, without any mention of the penalties associated with transgression.  Only in Parshat Kedoshim (chapter 20), the penalties for these outrages are introduced. In Kedoshim, Molech is the first law mentioned, followed by various pagan practices involving necromancy. Sexual prohibitions and their punishments, are listed only after these other two categories.

When Moshe repeats these laws and instructs the nation before his death, the law of Molech is repeated - not only in the context of necromancy, but in the very same verse:

דברים פרק יח, ט-יג
כִּי אַתָּה בָּא אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ לֹא תִלְמַד לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּתוֹעֲבֹת הַגּוֹיִם הָהֵם: לֹא יִמָּצֵא בְךָ מַעֲבִיר בְּנוֹ וּבִתּוֹ בָּאֵשׁ קֹסֵם קְסָמִים מְעוֹנֵן וּמְנַחֵשׁ וּמְכַשֵּׁף: וְחֹבֵר חָבֶר וְשֹׁאֵל אוֹב וְיִדְּעֹנִי וְדֹרֵשׁ אֶל הַמֵּתִים:  כִּי תוֹעֲבַת ה’ כָּל עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה וּבִגְלַל הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵלֶּה ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ מוֹרִישׁ אוֹתָם מִפָּנֶיךָ: תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ:
When you come into the land which the Almighty your God is giving you, do not learn to commit the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone that makes his son or his daughter pass through fire, who practices divination, who divines auspicious times, who divines by omens, who practices witchcraft, who uses incantations, who consults mediums and oracles, or who attempts to communicate with the dead (a necromancer). Anyone involved in these practices is repulsive to God, and it was because of repulsive practices such as these that the Almighty your God is driving out [these nations] before you. You must remain totally faithful to the Almighty your God. (Devarim 18:9-13)

It appears, then, that the context in which Molech is first introduced, within the list of forbidden relationships in Parshat Aharei Mot, is somewhat irregular and presents us with a challenge as to the precise understanding of the prohibition. Apparently, the Targum Yonatan addressed this problem without raising it explicitly, and his solution resolves this contextual challenge: In his understanding of the verse, a few additional words describe the prohibition: "Do not give your seed to a gentile women who will become pregnant and bear children for idolatry.”[3] This fascinating explanation of the verse explains why the law of Molech is mentioned in the list of forbidden sexual relations: in the Targum (Pseudo) Yonatan's formulation, the problem is one of intermarriage, because children produced from such a union would be subject to the whims of the mother and her pagan sensibilities and practices.

This solution is considered, and rejected out of hand, by the sages of the Mishna:

משנה מסכת מגילה פרק ד משנה ט
המכנה בעריות משתקין אותו האומר מזרעך לא תתן להעביר למולך (ויקרא י"ח) ומזרעך לא תתן לאעברא בארמיותא משתקין אותו בנזיפה:
If he introduces euphemisms into the portion dealing with forbidden marriages, he is silenced. If he says, [instead of] ‘do not give any of your seed to be initiated to Molech’, ‘do not give your seed to gentile women (who will become pregnant and bear children for idolatry)', he is both silenced and rebuked. (Mishna Megila 4:9)      

The Mishna clearly rejects this teaching, but the Talmud is far less unequivocal. This teaching is retained, albeit not as a majority opinion: at the very least, one Talmudic sage apparently served as the source for the Targum (Pseudo) Yonatan's reading:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף כה עמוד א
האומר ומזרעך לא תתן להעביר וכו', תנא דבי רבי ישמעאל: בישראל הבא על הכותית והוליד ממנה בן לעבודה זרה הכתוב מדבר.
"If one says, 'Do not give any of your seed to be initiated to Molech’, etc.: In the school of R. Yishmael it was stated: The text speaks of an Israelite who has intercourse with a Cuthean woman and begets from her a son for idolatry. (Talmud Bavli Megila 25a)

While this approach solves one problem – the context of the Molech prohibition in Parshat Aharei Mot - it creates others: the verse now fits neatly into the context of illicit relationships, but it does so by ignoring the other two times Molech is mentioned. In similar fashion, the Ramban[4] prefers to address Molech primarily in the context of the majority of the sources: Molech is seen as an idolatrous ritual which was believed by its practitioners to be magical. This type of magic is completely forbidden, and the Torah ends the discussion with a general demand that we reject all such behavior and banish any thoughts of incorporating outside practices into our service of God. There is nothing redeemable about idolatry; it must be completely eradicated so that we may serve God with a whole heart. We are to be tamim – perfect - in our service of God. Once again – the problem is solved by focusing on one context and ignoring the other, rendering the admonition against Molech part and parcel of the "industry" and all the processes that lead to and support idolatry but devoid of any intrinsic connection to sexuality.

Let us examine the language of the sources the Ramban focuses on, paying particular attention to the description of the adherents of these magical practices: 

ויקרא פרק כ, ה
וְשַׂמְתִּי אֲנִי אֶת פָּנַי בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא וּבְמִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ וְהִכְרַתִּי אֹתוֹ וְאֵת כָּל הַזֹּנִים אַחֲרָיו לִזְנוֹת אַחֲרֵי הַמֹּלֶךְ מִקֶּרֶב עַמָּם:
Then I will set My face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off - and all those that prostitute themselves in this way, following him and prostituting themselves for the Molech - from among their people. (Vayikra 20:5)

The word zonim and liznot is often translated as “to go astray”; we have translated it as "to prostitute oneself". This is a term that is most often found in connection with illicit sexual contact, though it is often used, perhaps metaphorically, regarding idolatry as well. A precise definition connotes an illicit relationship, particularly relations with a stranger[5]. The fact that this term is used in this context serves as a link between Molech and sexual sins, returning us to the context in Aharei Mot, the first appearance of Molech, in the context of forbidden relationships. Rashi's comments on this section are instructive: such practices defile the Jewish People, who are, as a collective, married (literally, set apart, 'holy') to God. Thus, any practice of idolatry is like cheating on a spouse.[6]

The Recanati[7] expands a teaching found in the Mechilta to elucidate this idea: One of the axioms of Jewish thought is centrality of the Ten Commandments that were engraved on the Tablets of Testimony. Almost equally axiomatic is our understanding that these ten principles were divided into two groups of five. However, the Mechilta teaches that the commandments should be read as two parallel or balancing principles, read from right to left. Thus, the first and  sixth Commandments are a balanced set of principles that reflect and refract upon one another. The first commandment is belief in the existence of God, and the sixth is the prohibition against murder. When read in this fashion, the lesson derived would be that knowledge that there is One God who created and sustains the universe should prevent us from committing murder: God is One, and He created each of us in His image, and we may not counteract this creation or diminish this image by taking another human life.[8] Likewise, the second Commandment should be read together with the seventh, linking the prohibition of idolatry with the prohibition of illicit sexual behavior. If this is so, the placement of Molech within the context of sexual sins seems its natural milieu.[9]

This relationship, this context, may tell us even more about Molach. Judaism does not reject sexuality; Jewish law creates a context in which human sexuality can be channeled towards the creation of holiness in our lives. Much of the book of Vayikra is dedicated to these very laws, to the method for creating holiness.

As a whole, the book of Vayikra transcends time. The thread of narrative is abandoned and laws are introduced in what at times seems to be an indiscriminate fashion. There is, however, one major exception: the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon. In fact, the narrative account of their deaths could just have easily been included in the book of Shmot or the book of Bamidbar, as were other events that transpired on that same day, Rosh Chodesh Nisan of the second year following the Exodus. That was the day the Mishkan was erected, and it is mentioned both at the end of the book of Shmot[10], and discussed in much more detail in the book of Bamidbar, particularly in Parshat Naso[11]. Had the narrative of their deaths been told in Naso, along with the rest of the events celebrating the consecration of the Mishkan, the narrative would have been more organic.

Why, then, include the deaths of Nadav and Avihu in Vayikra, a book of laws of purity and ritual? There is a sobering lesson to be learned from their deaths – a lesson that goes to the very heart of book of Vayikra: The Mishkan presents an opportunity for man to approach God, to come close, to consummate the intimacy we enjoy as a nation and as individuals with the almighty. Nonetheless, this intimacy must necessarily have limitations. The most profound intimacy runs the risk of becoming profoundly devastating if there are no boundaries. Ecstasy can become destructive, deadly, if we are lost in it. Nadav and Avihu paid no heed to the boundaries placed on intimacy, and were consumed. This is the pivotal moment of the book of Vayikra: Before this point, the book is dedicated to the laws of the Temple, to the creation of this physical point of intimacy. After their deaths, Vayikra turns to laws of holiness, of creating separations and boundaries that define and thus enable us to experience this intimacy without the danger of it consuming us. Holiness defines the space in which intimacy can exist; holiness is synonymous with separation.[12] For the most part, these are not laws of rejection as much as laws of context.[13]

The laws regarding sexuality are a case in point. Physical intimacy is not rejected as "unholy"; rather, Torah law dictates context in order to insure that the powerful, almost magnetic pull of human desire is harnessed and focused, bounded in a context that will result in holiness. As in human relationships, our intimacy with the Divine should not be ruled by unbridled passion. The ability to focus our passion, to create boundaries, raises us to a level that is more God-like, whereas failure to focus and control passion can be devastating -  whether in the Temple, like Nadav and Avihu, or the bedroom.

Had the prohibition of Molech been mentioned only in the context of pagan practices of magic and necromancy, we would learn that such behavior can not be redeemed and must be completely and summarily eradicated. But this not a complete picture: the prohibition against Molech also appears within the context of sexuality, a powerful urge which must be harnessed, focused and used in areas of holiness. This context teaches us that Molech, too, must be harnessed rather than rejected.

In a letter written in 1911, Rav Kook discusses the binding of Yitzchak, the Akeida, comparing the test that Avraham endured with the pagan practice of Molech.[14] Rav Kook ascribes the mindset of the adherents of Molech as a holy feeling within the hearts of parents who were willing to sacrifice even what they held most dear in order to build a relationship with the deity. Surely, the most salient element of the Akeida is that Avraham is ultimately told that God does not desire such offerings. And yet, we wonder about Avraham's desire. He, to, was willing to give his beloved, long-awaited son to God. Are these feelings positive, or should they be rejected? If these feelings can be separated from pagan practice, do they represent something positive, something Judaism should incorporate, or something that should be rejected?[15] In the words of one contemporary author, “With the introduction of Abraham's refined monotheism in the world, it was necessary to counter the objection of paganism: can the Torah's abstract concept of God compete with the reality of tangible idols? Can monotheism produce the same coarse vitality, the same passionate devotion as paganism? Or is it merely a cold, cerebral religion - theologically correct, but tepid and uninspiring?”[16]

On the day of the consecration of the Mishkan, Nadav and Avihu approached the Divine with passion, and they were severely punished. Is our conclusion to be that Judaism rejects such passion? Or might we say that their emotion was appropriate, but the means through which they expressed their joy, their ecstasy, was mistaken? We may look to another episode in our history that bears similarity[17] to the case of Nadav and Avihu, but which ended very differently: King David brought the Ark and the Tablets of the Covenant "home" to Jerusalem. The scene of this great day is described in the book of Shmuel: he saw the ark which contained the precious Tablets; he danced in front of the ark with complete abandon:

שמואל ב פרק ו, יג-כג
וַיְהִי כִּי צָעֲדוּ נֹשְׂאֵי אֲרוֹן ה’ שִׁשָּׁה צְעָדִים וַיִּזְבַּח שׁוֹר וּמְרִיא:(יד) וְדָוִד מְכַרְכֵּר בְּכָל עֹז לִפְנֵי ה’ וְדָוִד חָגוּר אֵפוֹד בָּד: וְדָוִד וְכָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל מַעֲלִים אֶת אֲרוֹן ה’ בִּתְרוּעָה וּבְקוֹל שׁוֹפָר: וְהָיָה אֲרוֹן ה’ בָּא עִיר דָּוִד וּמִיכַל בַּת שָׁאוּל נִשְׁקְפָה בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן וַתֵּרֶא אֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ דָּוִד מְפַזֵּז וּמְכַרְכֵּר לִפְנֵי ה’ וַתִּבֶז לוֹ בְּלִבָּהּ: וַיָּבִאוּ אֶת אֲרוֹן ה’ וַיַּצִּגוּ אֹתוֹ בִּמְקוֹמוֹ בְּתוֹךְ הָאֹהֶל אֲשֶׁר נָטָה לוֹ דָּוִד וַיַּעַל דָּוִד עֹלוֹת לִפְנֵי ה’ וּשְׁלָמִים: וַיְכַל דָּוִד מֵהַעֲלוֹת הָעוֹלָה וְהַשְּׁלָמִים וַיְבָרֶךְ אֶת הָעָם בְּשֵׁם ה’ צְבָאוֹת: וַיְחַלֵּק לְכָל הָעָם לְכָל הֲמוֹן יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמֵאִישׁ וְעַד אִשָּׁה לְאִישׁ חַלַּת לֶחֶם אַחַת וְאֶשְׁפָּר אֶחָד וַאֲשִׁישָׁה אֶחָת וַיֵּלֶךְ כָּל הָעָם אִישׁ לְבֵיתוֹ: וַיָּשָׁב דָּוִד לְבָרֵךְ אֶת בֵּיתוֹ וַתֵּצֵא מִיכַל בַּת שָׁאוּל לִקְרַאת דָּוִד וַתֹּאמֶר מַה נִּכְבַּד הַיּוֹם מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר נִגְלָה הַיּוֹם לְעֵינֵי אַמְהוֹת עֲבָדָיו כְּהִגָּלוֹת נִגְלוֹת אַחַד הָרֵקִים: וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל מִיכַל לִפְנֵי ה’ אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר בִּי מֵאָבִיךְ וּמִכָּל בֵּיתוֹ לְצַוֹּת אֹתִי נָגִיד עַל עַם ה’ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְשִׂחַקְתִּי לִפְנֵי ה’: וּנְקַלֹּתִי עוֹד מִזֹּאת וְהָיִיתִי שָׁפָל בְּעֵינָי וְעִם הָאֲמָהוֹת אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתְּ עִמָּם אִכָּבֵדָה: וּלְמִיכַל בַּת שָׁאוּל לֹא הָיָה לָהּ יָלֶד עַד יוֹם מוֹתָהּ:
And it was so, that when they that bore the ark of God had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. And David danced before the God with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the Ark of God with shouting, and with the sound of the horn. And so, as the Ark of the God came into the City of David, that Michal the daughter of Shaul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before God; and she despised him in her heart. And they brought in the Ark of God, and set it in its place, in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the God of Hosts. And he distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to every one a cake of bread, and a cake made in a pan, and a sweet cake. So all the people departed to their own houses. Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Shaul came out to meet David, and said: 'How honorable is the King of Israel today, who uncovered himself today before the eyes of the handmaids of his servants as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!' And David said to Michal: 'Before God, who chose me above thy father and above all his house to appoint me prince over the People of God, over Israel, before God will I make merry. And I will be yet more vile than thus, and will be base in my own sight; and with the handmaids of whom you have spoken, among them I will feel honor.' And Michal the daughter of Shaul had no child until the day she died. (II Shmuel 6:13-23)

David’s dance was derided by his wife; she thought that such behavior was unbefitting a king. As a daughter of Shaul, she thought herself as an expert in protocol and appropriate behavior for a king; she thought that David had debased himself. God thought differently: immediately following David’s display of passion, ecstasy and abandon before the Ark, He sent a message to David, that he will be the one who will see to it that a house of God is built, and his kingship will endure forever.

שמואל ב פרק ז, ד-יז
וַיְהִי בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא וַיְהִי דְּבַר ה’ אֶל נָתָן לֵאמֹר: לֵךְ וְאָמַרְתָּ אֶל עַבְדִּי אֶל דָּוִד כֹּה אָמַר ה’ הַאַתָּה תִּבְנֶה לִּי בַיִת לְשִׁבְתִּי: כִּי לֹא יָשַׁבְתִּי בְּבַיִת לְמִיּוֹם הַעֲלֹתִי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וָאֶהְיֶה מִתְהַלֵּךְ בְּאֹהֶל וּבְמִשְׁכָּן: בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בְּכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֲדָבָר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶת אַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי לִרְעוֹת אֶת עַמִּי אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר לָמָּה לֹא בְנִיתֶם לִי בֵּית אֲרָזִים: וְעַתָּה כֹּה תֹאמַר לְעַבְדִּי לְדָוִד כֹּה אָמַר ה’ צְבָאוֹת אֲנִי לְקַחְתִּיךָ מִן הַנָּוֶה מֵאַחַר הַצֹּאן לִהְיוֹת נָגִיד עַל עַמִּי עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל: וָאֶהְיֶה עִמְּךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר הָלַכְתָּ וָאַכְרִתָה אֶת כָּל אֹיְבֶיךָ מִפָּנֶיךָ וְעָשִׂתִי לְךָ שֵׁם גָּדוֹל כְּשֵׁם הַגְּדֹלִים אֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ: וְשַׂמְתִּי מָקוֹם לְעַמִּי לְיִשְׂרָאֵל וּנְטַעְתִּיו וְשָׁכַן תַּחְתָּיו וְלֹא יִרְגַּז עוֹד וְלֹא יֹסִיפוּ בְנֵי עַוְלָה לְעַנּוֹתוֹ כַּאֲשֶׁר בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה: וּלְמִן הַיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי שֹׁפְטִים עַל עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַהֲנִיחֹתִי לְךָ מִכָּל אֹיְבֶיךָ וְהִגִּיד לְךָ ה’ כִּי בַיִת יַעֲשֶׂה לְּךָ ה’: כִּי יִמְלְאוּ יָמֶיךָ וְשָׁכַבְתָּ אֶת אֲבֹתֶיךָ וַהֲקִימֹתִי אֶת זַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ וַהֲכִינֹתִי אֶת מַמְלַכְתּוֹ: הוּא יִבְנֶה בַּיִת לִשְׁמִי וְכֹנַנְתִּי אֶת כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ עַד עוֹלָם: אֲנִי אֶהְיֶה לּוֹ לְאָב וְהוּא יִהְיֶה לִּי לְבֵן אֲשֶׁר בְּהַעֲוֹתוֹ וְהֹכַחְתִּיו בְּשֵׁבֶט אֲנָשִׁים וּבְנִגְעֵי בְּנֵי אָדָם: וְחַסְדִּי לֹא יָסוּר מִמֶּנּוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר הֲסִרֹתִי מֵעִם שָׁאוּל אֲשֶׁר הֲסִרֹתִי מִלְּפָנֶיךָ: וְנֶאְמַן בֵּיתְךָ וּמַמְלַכְתְּךָ עַד עוֹלָם לְפָנֶיךָ כִּסְאֲךָ יִהְיֶה נָכוֹן עַד עוֹלָם: כְּכֹל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וּכְכֹל הַחִזָּיוֹן הַזֶּה כֵּן דִּבֶּר נָתָן אֶל דָּוִד:
And it came to pass that same night, that the word of God came to Natan, saying:  'Go and tell My servant David: Thus says God: Will you build Me a house for Me to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought the Children of Israel up out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a Tent and in a Tabernacle. In all the time I have walked among the Children of Israel, did I speak a word to any of leaders of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed My people Israel, saying: Why have you not built Me a house of cedar? Now therefore thus shall you say to My servant David: Thus said the God of Hosts: I took you from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over My people, over Israel. And I have been with you wherever you did go, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make a great name for you, as great as the names of the greatest people on the earth. And I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be disquieted no more; the children of wickedness will no longer afflict them, as they have done from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will cause you to rest from all your enemies. Moreover, God tells you that God will make a house for you. When your days are fulfilled, and you sleep with your fathers, I will set up your offspring after you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him , and he shall be a son to Me; if he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; but My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Shaul, whom I removed before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made secure forever before you; your throne shall be established forever.' Nathan spoke all these words, and relayed all this vision, to David. (II Shmuel 7:4-17)

Molech shares a root with the word melech, “king:” The practitioners of Molech accepted upon themselves complete subservience.[18] They worshipped with their entire being. They were willing to sacrifice their most precious "possessions" in service of the deity.

David’s total devotion to God, expressed by his complete sacrifice of ego, catapulted him to a position of royalty forever. David would be melech (king) – forever. Furthermore, he and his descendents would build the House of God. Apparently, David's complete abandonment of self is accepted by God, and is a foundation of both the Davidic dynasty and the Beit Hamikdash.[19]

The horrific practice known as Molech must be eradicated; the Torah categorizes this practice together with other pagan, superstitious behaviors. However, the core passion that this practice reflected, the willing subservience to a higher power, is what lies at the core of our acceptance of God as King. This should not be discarded. It should be brought into our lives, focused and concentrated through Torah law, as an essential component of holiness.

[1] This question, while ignored by most commentators, is raised in one Midrash. See Pisikta Zutrata (Lekach Tov) Vayikra Acharei Mot page 51b.
פסיקתא זוטרתא (לקח טוב) ויקרא פרשת אחרי מות דף נא עמוד ב
ומזרעך לא תתן להעביר למולך. כל שהמליכו עליו אפילו צרור ואפילו קיסם. להעביר. כדרך שהיו עושין בתופת וגיא בן הנם מדורות אש ומעבירים בניהם בהם. ולמה נסמך העברת מולך לאשת איש ללמדך שכל הבא על אשת חבירו ומוליד בן סופו שהבן הולך ועובד עבודת כוכבים לכך נאמר לא תתן. נאמר במולך ומזרעך ונאמר באשת איש לזרע. ולא תחלל את שם אלהיך. מלמד שטומאת עבודת כוכבים.
[2] See Vayikra 18:3-5.
ויקרא פרק יח, ג-ה
כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ:  אֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ וְאֶת חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם אֲנִי ה’:
[3] Vayikra 18:21
כתר יונתן ויקרא פרק יח, כא
ומִן זרעך לא תִתן בתשמישה לצד בת הגוים לעיבור לעבודה זרה ולא תחלל את שמו של אלהיך אני יי:

[4] Ramban Vayikra 18:21.
רמב"ן ויקרא פרק יח, כא
ועל דרך הפשט אמרו, כי מעביר בנו ובתו באש מין ממיני הכשפים, כי בענין הכשוף נאמר (דברים יח י) לא ימצא בך מעביר בנו ובתו באש קוסם קסמים מעונן ומנחש ומכשף, ואמר במנשה (דהי"ב לג ו) והוא העביר את בניו באש בגיא בן הנום ועונן ונחש וכשף ועשה אוב וידעוני, וכתיב (מ"ב יז יז) ויעבירו את בניהם ואת בנותיהם באש ויקסמו קסמים וינחשו, והמולך היא עבודה זרה שמקריבין לו הקטנים. אבל אחר שמצאנו כתוב (שם כג י) לבלתי להעביר איש את בנו ואת בתו באש למולך, נאמנו דברי רבותינו שהכל למולך באש:
[5] See Menachem Zevi Kaddari, A Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew ( Ramat Gan : Bar Ilan University Press, 2006), page 255f.
[6] Rashi, Vayikra 20:3.
רש"י ויקרא פרק כ פסוק ג
למען טמא את מקדשי - את כנסת ישראל, שהיא מקודשת לי, כלשון (ויקרא כא כג) ולא יחלל את מקדשי:
[7] Recanati Vayikra 18:21.
ריקאנטי ויקרא פרק יח:כא
ומזרעך לא תתן להעביר למולך וגו' [שם כא]. סמך איסור העבודה זרה לאיסור הזנות, כי עבודה זרה נדמית בכל מקום לזנות, והוא מקנא אם אותם שנולדו לו יזנו אחר עבודה זרה, וכל ענין עבודה זרה נמשל לניאוף ככתוב בספר משלי. והבן כי בהיות עשרת הדברות בשני לוחות והיו מכוונין חמש כנגד חמש, היה מכוון לא יהיה לך כנגד לא תנאף, נרמזה שם האמונה רעה שפשטה בעולם, השם יעביר רבוח הטומאה מן הארץ, כדכתיב [זכריה יג, ב] ואת רוח הטומאה אעביר מן הארץ, שלא תמצא אמונה בעולם שלא נרמזה בתורה אלא שתשובתה בצדה. ועבודת המולך היא עבודת האש, תבין איסורו מטעם כתובת קעקע, והטעם שלא יכניסו כחות הטומאה בהיכל הקדש, והבן זה.
[8] Mechilta d’Rebbi Yishmael, Yitro, Masechta d'b'Chodesh, parsha 8.
מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל יתרו - מסכתא דבחדש פרשה ח
כיצד נתנו עשרת הדברות: ה' על לוח זה וה' על לוח זה. - כתיב אנכי יי' אלהיך וכנגדו לא תרצח, מגיד הכתוב שכל מי ששופך דם, מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו ממעט בדמות המלך; משל למלך בשר ודם שנכנס למדינה והעמיד לו איקונות ועשה לו צלמים וטבעו לו מטבעות; לאחר זמן כפו לו איקונותיו שברו לו צלמיו ובטלו לו מטבעותיו ומיעטו בדמותו של מלך; כך כל מי שהוא שופך דמים, מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו ממעט בדמות המלך, שנ' +בראשית ט ו+ שופך דם האדם וגו' כי בצלם אלהים עשה את האדם. - כתיב לא יהיה לך וכתיב כנגדו לא תנאף, מגיד הכתוב שכל מי שעובד עבודה זרה מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו מנאף אחר המקום שנ' +יחזקאל טז לב+ האשה המנאפת תחת אשה תקח את זרים וכתוב +הושע ג א+ ויאמר ה' אלי עוד לך אהב אשת אהובת רע ומנאפת וגו'.
[9] To see how this approach explains the other commandments, see Rashi, Shir Hashirim 4:5.
רש"י שיר השירים פרק ד:ה
כשני עפרים תאומי צביה - דרך צביה להיות יולדת תאומים כך שניהם שוים שקולים זה כזה, דבר אחר שני שדיך על שם הלוחות תאומי צביה שהם מכוונות במדה אחת וחמשה דברות על זו וחמשה על זו מכוונין דבור כנגד דבור, אנכי כנגד לא תרצח שהרוצח ממעט את הדמות של הקב"ה, לא יהיה לך כנגד לא תנאף שהזונה אחר עבודה זרה דרך אשה המנאפת תחת אישה תקח את זרים, לא תשא כנגד לא תגנוב שהגונב סופו לישבע לשקר, זכור כנגד לא תענה שהמחלל את השבת מעיד שקר בבוראו לומר שלא שבת בשבת בראשית, כבד כנגד לא תחמוד שהחומד סופו להוליד בן שמקלה אותו ומכבד למי שאינו אביו:
[10] See Shmot 40:33.
[11] See Bamidbar chapter 7.
[12] See Rashi Shmot 19:2.
[13] See Midrash Rabbah Vayikra section 22:10.
ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשת אחרי מות פרשה כב
ה' מתיר אסורים מה שאסרתי לך התרתי לך אסרתי לך חלב בהמה והתרתי לך בחיה אסרתי לך גיד הנשה בחיה והתרתי לך בעוף אסרתי לך שחיטה בעופות והתרתי לך בדגים, ר' אבא ור' יונתן בשם ר' לוי אמר יותר ממה שאסרתי לך התרתי לך דם הנדה אסרתי לך התרתי לך דם בתולים אסרתי לך אשת איש התרתי לך את השבויה, אשת אח התרתי לך יבמה, אשה ואת אחותה בחייהם התרתי לך לאחר מיתה לבישת כלאים התרתי לך סדין בציצית בשר חזיר התרתי לך דג ששמו שיבוטא את החלב התרתי לך את השומן את הדם התרתי לך טחול בשר בחלב התרתי לך את הכחל,
[14] I have discussed this letter previously in connection with the Golden Calf. See
[15] Iggrot Hara'ayah, volume 2 page 43.
הרב א"י קוק, אגרות הראיה ב, ירושלים תשכ"ב, עמ' מג.
אותה ההתמכרות העמוקה של עבודה זרה, שראה בה האדם הפרא חזות הכל, עד שניצחה גם את רחמי הורים, ותשים את האכזריות על בנים ובנות למִדה קבועה בעבודת המולך, וכהנה, היא תוצאה ערפלית מההכרה הגנוזה שבעֹמק לבב האדם, שהענין האלהי יקר הוא מכל, וכל נחמד ואהוב כאין נגדו.
כאשר הוצרכה ההארה האלהית להופיע בטהרתה, נתגלתה בעֹז התלהבותה בנסיון העקדה, שהראה לדעת שאותו החום וההתמכרות לענין האלקי, אינו צריך דוקא שתהי ההשגה האלהית כל כך מעולפת בלבושים בזויים כאותם של העבודות הזרות, שהניצוץ של הטוב האלהי אובד בהם לגמרי את דרכו, אלא גם בהשגה טהורהשאין צריך לומר כמה שהיא מאירה את כל דרכי חייו של האדם, כמה שהיא מתקנת את החיים החברותיים וכמה היא מעמדת על בסיס איתן את מצב הרוח של האדם, ביחס לשאיפותיו הנצחיות, המתגלות בענינים שהם 'למעלה מן השמש'. כל אלה הם דברים גלויים  הרבותא המצויינת [בעקדה] היא, שלא יחסר חֹם ההתמכרות ביחס להתקשרות האלהית בצורת ההשגה המאירה. זה יצא לפועל על ידי ההחלטה של נסיון העקדה, שנשאר חק טבעי לדורות עולמים, שגם בהקישור העדין [= המוסרי] אל הדעה המורמה מכל רעיון חושי, יש חדירה לכל חדרי לב; ולולי זה, היתה האנושיות עומדת או ברגש עכור ופראי, אמנם פועם בחזקה ביחושו לאלהות, או ברוח קריר מסונן קצת מבלעדי תכונה של חיים עמוקים על כן גדול הוא ונִשא זכרון העקדה, לדורות עולמים, ולא רק במטבעות תפלה, כי אם המקרא במקומו הוא אומר: 'כי יען אשר עשית את הדבר הזה ולא חשכת את בנך את יחידך' (כ"ב, יב). ומה נהדרת היא תפילתנו, להזכיר זכותו של האב הראשון הלוחם נגד הפראות הדמיונית במערכה האלוהית, שכל זכותה הקלושה היתה בצד הפופולרי שלה בחידור עומק הלב, שהיו האליליים טוענים שאי אפשר לתרבות אנושית מבלעדיו, מפני שהרושם של האלהות הטהורה הוא מרום יותר מדאי וזך יותר מדאי, מלהיות בו כדי מרעה להמון גוים. בא 'אב המון גויים' והורה מה שהיה צריך להורות, עד אשר איך שירדו הדורות - יש מקום לחדירה של האור הטהור, ועקדת יצחק נזכרת ברחמים לזרעו לדור דורים.

[17] This section is read as the Haftorah of Parshat Shmini, where the episode of Nadav and Avihu is told.
[18] See Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 64a.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף סד עמוד א
רבי חנינא בן אנטיגנוס - דתניא, רבי חנינא בן אנטיגנוס אומר: מפני מה תפסה תורה לשון מולך - כל שהמליכוהו עליהם,
[19] See Kedushat Levi Avot 2:6.
ספר קדושת לוי - מסכת אבות
וזהו פירוש הפסוק ודוד מכרכר בכל עוז לפני ה', כי דוד היה בבחינת ביטול לפני ה' ביראה עילאה, בבחינת ביטול במציאות, ולכן היה מכרכר 'בכל עוז', היינו שהיה לו כלות הנפש וביטול במציאות אשר יצא מהכלי שלו, וכל זה היה מחמת שהוא לפני ה'. והבן: