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Shabbat Parashat R'ei 5776

Parashat Hashavua: How Low Can We Reach?

Harav Yosef Carmel

One of the serious commandments in our parasha is to be careful not to be swayed by the ways of idol worship in the Land, such as burning one’s children in the fire to the idols (Devarim 12:30-31). Indeed there was a very great concern that after entering the Land, Bnei Yisrael would be negatively impacted by the indigenous population. The Torah went about this in an interesting way, claiming that the idolatry was so despicable that people actually killed their children in the process.

Is it possible that the Canaanites actually stooped that low? More importantly, was there really a chance that the sons of Avraham, people described as merciful, shy, and full of kindness, could embark on such a path?

If we take a look at p’sukim throughout Tanach, we indeed see that not only did the seven nations and the descendants of Lot commit the heinous crime of killing their own children, but even members of our own nation did so. We will prove this claim based on two sources.

The first is related to the account of King Yehoshafat of the Kingdom of Judea, who helped King Yehoram of the Kingdom of Israel put down the rebellion of King Meisha of Moav. The aftermath of the battle is described as follows: “The King of Moav saw that the battle was beyond his strength … and he took his oldest son, who was to rule after him, and brought him as a sacrifice on the wall, and there was great anger at Israel, and they left him and returned to their place” (Melachim II, 3:26-7). There are many opinions as to what happened, as Rav and Shmuel (Sanhedrin 39b) argued as to whether Meisha brought his son as a sacrifice to Hashem or to idolatry. Regarding the anger against Bnei Yisrael, the gemara explains that if Meisha sacrificed for idolatry, the anger at Bnei Yisrael was that some of them had done the same.

In Sefer Yeshaya, within the prophecies of consolation, there are p’sukim that illustrate how drastic the deterioration reached at the time of King Menasheh (Yeshaya 57:3-7). The p’sukim speak of bringing objectionable sacrifices and of slaughtering the children under the trees along the streams. Although the words are difficult to translate (and so, we did not try to present them in this forum), it is hard to deny that the p’sukim refer to the exact phenomenon that we initially wondered if it could occur within our nation.

Let us summarize the situation as follows. Bnei Yisrael are the chosen and beloved of Hashem and are referred to as “the holy flock” and a “light unto the nations.” Yet, as great as their level, so is the magnitude of the spiritual fall that they can experience. Let us make our efforts that we make continuous strides in the proper direction.

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