In the Torah’s system of values, idolatry is certainly one of the worst crimes. There is one form of idolatry, however, that seems to be different in some way than all the others. The ritual of Molech consists of passing the worshiper’s child between two raging bonfires. What is unusual about this type of idolatry (aside from its bizarre ritual), is the reason the Torah gives to discourage the Jewish people from its worship. It says you should not pass your child trough the fires for the sake of Molech worship, “so you will not profane the name of your God – I am the Lord!” Doesn’t all idolatry deny God and therefore profane His name? Why is this reason emphasized specifically with this form of idolatry over any others?
R. Ovadiah Seforno (1470 – 1550), the Italian Rabbi and author of a classic commentary on the Torah, writes that Molech worship contains an element that makes it more severe than ordinary idolatry. If a non-Jew worships Molech, it may be no different than any other type of idolatrous worship. Jews, however, don’t participate in this ritual in a vacuum. When they worship Molech, their action is viewed in the milieu from which they are defecting from. In the Beit Hamikdash, Jews would offer animal sacrifices to the Almighty. By handing over a child for this Molech ritual, the Jew demonstrates his double standard. He shows that while he is only willing to dedicate his animal to his own God, he is willing to give his very own child in the service of the idolatrous deity. That is why this version of idolatry stands out as worse than all others, and is singled out with the reference to profaning God’s name.
Life is made of up the physical and the spiritual, the ordinary and the exalted, the mundane and the holy. Comparing our commitment to each area is an important litmus test to determine our success in spirituality. Do we maintain, at least, an equal footing between the two, or do we emphasize the physical over the spiritual? Do we become experts in all the detailed know-how of a hobby or the statistics of a recreational pastime while we are satisfied with a cursory smattering of Torah knowledge? Are we able to read the newspaper with our undivided attention, but unable to pray without getting caught up in daydreams? I doubt that the fuss the Torah makes about Molech was necessary to discourage any Jew throughout history from worshiping that bizarre form of idolatry. The lesson of Molech, however, that reminds us to have, at the bare minimum, an equal balance of effort expended for both the physical and spiritual aspects of our lives, is certainly one that is necessary for any Jew throughout all of history.