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Shabbat Parashat Chukat 5778

Parashat Hashavua: Being Above, Not Below

Harav Yosef Carmel

We have discussed in the past Bnei Yisrael’s relationship with the nation of Edom. Now we will take a look at Moav’s relationship with Edom, as portrayed by Amos: “For the three sins of Moav, and for the fourth I will not let them be – on the fact that they burned the bones of the King of Edom into lime” (Amos 2:1).

Edom and Moav actually share such “distinctions” as not letting Bnei Yisrael pass through their land on the way to Eretz Yisrael. Regarding Edom, this is explicit in our parasha, as Bnei Yisrael’s polite request was met by a harsh response (Bamidbar 20:14-18). Moav’s similar response is found in Sefer Shoftim (11:17). Yet, Amos takes Moav to task not for their treatment of Israel, but for their treatment of Edom. We will now provide some background to understand what the issues were.

In Melachim II, 3 we are told that in the aftermath of King Achav’s fall at the hands of the Aramim, the Moavim stopped paying taxes to the Kingdom of Israel. Yehoram, Achav’s son, a cousin of Yehoshafat, King of Yehuda, went to battle against Moav, and Yehoshafat enlisted his vassal, the King of Edom. The last battle of this war took place by the walls of the capital city of Moav, Kir, which was besieged by Israel, Yehuda, and Edom. The King of Moav tried to break the siege by attacking its weakest link, Edom. “He took 700 men with swords to break through to the King of Edom, and they were not able to” (ibid. 26).

Then, it says: “He took his firstborn son, who was to rule after him, and brought him as a sacrifice on the wall” (ibid. 27). The Radak explains that the King of Moav was able to get hold of the son of the King of Edom and, as revenge, killed the son of the King of Edom. As a result, in anger, the King of Edom left the battle, and the kings of Israel and Yehuda were not successful, as the pasuk says: “There was great anger on Israel and they traveled away from him and returned to the Land” (ibid.). This, of course, explains the sin that Moav carried out against Edom.

 Chazal explained differently. In his despair, the King of Moav sacrificed his own son in the form of the avoda zara of Molech. This caused great anger against Bnei Yisrael in the Heaven, which is what broke up the coalition against Moav. The logic behind Hashem’s anger is that Bnei Yisrael chose to learn the abominations of the nations around them (such as Molech), as opposed to learning from some of their better practices (see Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim II 226).

Israel can be like the stars of the heaven and reach the highest spiritual levels. However, at times, we deteriorate to such a low level as to be leaders in deficiency. Any idol worship is lowly, but slaughtering children to the idol is lowly among lowly. When the Moavites reached that low level and slaughtered their crown price, all the Jewish children who had been slaughtered under similar circumstances to the Molech formed a “panel of critics” against the kings’ effort and caused its failure.

Let us pray that we will be like the stars, whether numerically or qualitatively/spiritually.

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