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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5775

Parashat Hashavua: Which I Neither Commanded, Nor Said, Nor Contemplated

Harav Yosef Carmel

Much ink has been spilled in an attempt to explain the story of the Akeida (Binding of Yitzchak). In our short words this week, we will relate to the painful topic of the sacrifice of children and the lesson from the story of the Akeida, while relating to the insight of the Prophets and of the Rabbis.

The episode begins with Hashem apparently commanding Avraham to bring his son as a sacrifice on a certain mountain (Bereishit 22:2). Yet, the Torah elsewhere warns very strongly: “From your offspring do not pass to the Molech” (Vayikra 18:21), a practice, which according to the Ramban, included not just passing near a fire but that the person was burnt to death.

We find in the times of the Judges that Yiftach sacrificed his daughter due to a vow to Hashem to sacrifice the first thing that left his house when he would return successfully from battle. The simple reading of the navi’s account is that he inexplicably fulfilled this oath literally (see Shoftim 11:30-39), despite the obvious fact that one has neither authority nor the slightest justification to do such a thing.

The main idolatrous deity of Ammon was Molech or Malkom. It is therefore not surprising that King Meisha of the brother nation, Moav, brought his son as a sacrifice as is stated in Melachim (II:3:26-27). The navi writes that there was great divine anger at Bnei Yisrael in this context. The Rabbis explain that the anger was due to the fact that there were those in Bnei Yisrael who also acted in this way (see Rashi and Radak, ad loc.). By the end of the period of the First Temple, this practice had grown significantly. The navi chided King Menasheh for perpetrating this great sin with his own son (Melachim II:21:6). Yeshayahu (57:5) cried out about those who “slaughter children in the riverbeds”. Menasheh’s grandson and great-grandson also continued this horrible practice. Yirmiyahu (7:31), at the end of the First Temple period, described those who built altars to idolatry in Gei Ben Hinom (outside old Yerushalayim) in which they burnt their sons and daughters.

Three times (including, ibid.) Yirmiyahu stresses that this practice was “that which I did not command, and I did not speak, and it did not cross My mind.” Chazal (Midrash Tannaim, Devarim 17) explain Yirmiya’s intention: “which I did not command” – in the Torah; “and I did not speak” – in the Ten Commandments; “and it did not cross My mind” – that a man would sacrifice his son on an altar. Another opinion (cited ibid.) is that He did not command Yiftach, and did not speak to Meisha, and it did not cross His mind that “Avraham would bring Yitzchak on the altar but it was just a test.”

Let us pray that in the renewed State of Israel, children will be educated to have good characteristics and be worthy of the titles of “the sons of Avraham” and “compassionate, shy, and kind people.” When the task of providing such education will assume its proper place in our priorities, we will know that we are more solid ground.

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