Parashat Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27
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Kedoshim can best be summed up as "don't exploit."
I have never understood the frenzy surrounding young entertainers. What may have started with Baby Peggy has grown exponentially over the decades to include familiar names such as Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, or—more recently—Justin Bieber. My bemusement turns to alarm when I read of companies that that exist solely to entice youngsters—and their families—who aspire to be the next overnight sensations. Alarm turns to absolute terror when the determination to grab the spotlight becomes the sole focus of familial devotion and solace as recently happened with a thirteen-year-old girl named Rebecca Black. Her family apparently invested a few thousand dollars in the production of a formulaic music video in the hope that it would go viral. They got their wish, only not in the Bieber-esque way they had hoped. Her video, roundly judged as being terrible, gained her widespread infamy. Adults who should know better and would otherwise never make fun of a child had a field day on morning "news" shows and late night comedy programs using her as an object of ridicule. You could say her family offered her up for this, just to gain fame, and it worked. Apparently young Ms. Black is said to be working on an album; so, perhaps she will have the last laugh. The question is whether the laughter will be joyous or bittersweet.
While we nod out heads and cluck our tongues wondering what kind of parents would subject their child to such ridicule, we need not troll the internet for more examples, there are enough closer to home. How many of us are sure we have the next great athlete, model, actor, or rock-star in-training? How often do we forego rational judgment on the off chance that one of our children could fulfill one of our dreams? For some it's a recording contract; for others it's a football scholarship. It may be nothing more than your child's picture on the front-page of the hometown paper, or the adorable baby video uploaded on YouTube for all the world to see. Who knows? It may result in a lucrative contract. Even some ads on a webpage would suffice.
Granted, what we do today is not nearly as dramatic as what we are cautioned against in parashat Kedoshim, in which we are presented with a horrific situation we are told to avoid in no uncertain terms:
Anyone among the Israelites, or among the strangers residing in Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall be put to death; the people of the land shall pelt him with stones. And I will set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he gave of his offspring to Molech and so defiled My sanctuary and profaned My holy name. And if the people of the land should shut their eyes to that man when he gives of his offspring to Molech, and should not put him to death, I Myself will set My face against that man and his kin, and will cut off from among their people both him and all who follow him in going astray after Molech.Leviticus 20:2-5
This is the second time we have a warning about Molech. The first was in last week's parasha: Do not allow any of your offspring to be offered up to Molech, and do not profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:21) Despite the dire warning we actually know very little about the cult of Molech, but what we do know isn't pretty.
It has been suggested, given the clear reference to the burning of children in Syria in the late eighth century B.C.E., that the cult of Molech described in biblical literature and condemned in the law codes of the Torah was linked historically to the Syro-Assyrian cults that flourished among the Arameans of Syria during a good part of the monarchic period in biblical Israel. Like Syrian art and architecture, Syrian religious practices, including the burning of children, may have been imitated by the kings of Israel and Judah. … It is likely that more than one cult in the ancient Near East included the burning and sacrificing of children.
The Cult of Molech in Biblical Israel in The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus, Baruch Levine (ed.) p. 258
The verb describing the offering of a child to Molech is n-t-n, to give, which carries with it the connotation of devoting or dedicating the child to this deity. (The Talmud describes this ritual as either the child walking between two bonfires or being burned as a sacrifice.)
Obviously, such behaviour is beyond our imagination. We would never consider passing our children through a fire. (I even have difficulty writing this.) Still, we can be so single-minded that we dedicate our children to other causes we hold dear: living our hopes and dreams. Though our modern pursuits are rarely fatal (a number of "over the hill" child stars being the exception), our children do burn out. We kid ourselves by saying we are only fulfilling their desires. What's the hurry? How many children have clearly formulated goals in life? How many have dreams that change on a regular basis? We confuse empowerment with exploitation resulting in a childhood left in ashes.
Kedoshim is not a parenting manual, but it is a powerful guide to moral adult behaviour which, if we practice it, can influence our offspring. The warning about Molech is nestled among some wonderful lessons. Leviticus 19 gives examples of ethical behaviour towards others: revere your parents, treat rich and poor alike, do not degrade your daughter, use honest weights and measures, honour the elderly, respect the disabled. Leviticus 20 deals with the boundaries of sexual encounters. If we are to treat adults in an ethical and moral manner, how much more so should this behaviour be followed with children? Kedoshim can best be summed up as "don't exploit." Pride of place among the consequences of this injunction is not to offer our children to the modern idols of fleeting adulation.
Rabbi Michal Shekel