By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
As its name suggests, this portion is about Kedushah,
“holiness, sanctity.” We are enjoined and challenged to emulate Hashem by
You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am Holy (Vayikra 19:2).
Kedushah is achieved through self-control, especially in those areas of life
where man has the potential for the most animalistic behavior. Instead, these
biological drives are channeled towards the service of the Almighty.
However, the goal described here is not only Kedushah, the concept of sanctity
in an abstract sense; there is also the goal of creating and maintaining a
Mikdash – an entity of holiness.
What is Mikdash? Which objects are so described? Of course, the primary
reference of Mikdash is to the Sanctuary, the Mishkan, or Tabernacle:
And they shall make for Me a Sanctuary (Mikdash), so that I may dwell in their
midst (Shemot 25:8).
And it is in this sense that we understand the first mention of Mikdash in our
My Shabbatot shall you keep, and My Sanctuary shall you revere; I am Hashem
On this verse, Rashi (quoting Torat Kohanim and Berachot 54a) writes that
“revering” the Mikdash as the Sanctuary, applies whether it be the Mikdash of
Moshe or, later, the Beit HaMikdash – it is a place set aside for the service
of Hashem through sacrifice and prayer. Mikdash refers to a location where
Hashem’s Presence rests, which demands a high standard of reverential
In view of Rashi’s treatment of Mikdash in the above verse, the following is
And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: “And to the Children of Israel you shall
say: Any one from the Children of Israel and from the stranger who lives in
Israel, who shall give of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to
death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. And, as for Me, I
will set My face against that man, and I will cut him off from the midst of
his people, because he has given of his offspring to Molech, to defile My
Mikdash and to profane My Holy Name (Vayikra 20:1-3).
The abominable practice of passing one’s offspring through a fire for the idol
called Molech is certainly reprehensible. But, why does it say that it defiles
the Sanctuary? It is not performed in the Temple!
Therefore, Rashi offers an unconventional translation:
To defile my Mikdash – the congregation of Israel which is sanctified to Me,
like the expression, “so that he will not profane My sanctified things (Mikdash)”
Rashi’s point seems to be that Mikdash does not always refer to the Sanctuary,
a place of holiness; it can also mean a sanctified thing, such as the
sacrifices (as in 21:23), or the people of Israel (as in our verse, 20:3).
Rashi is saying that the idolatrous worship of Molech by an individual in the
midst of the people of Israel is a defilement of the entire community. A
similar idea is found in Sforno, who adds that, because the individual has
banished the Divine Presence from the midst of the people, it is only fitting
that “the people of the land shall stone him with stones”, because they are
all harmed by his deeds.
(It is perhaps worth noting that the comment of Rashi is not found in several
manuscripts, nor in the first printing of Rashi. However, it was known to
Rashi’s super commentaries, and to Ramban. This might mean that it was not
written by Rashi himself, but by one of his students. On the one hand, it is
inconsistent with what Rashi says on 21:23. In any case, it was accepted as a
comment of Rashi as early as the time of Ramban.)
Rambam elaborates that the sin of Molech in particular, when one’s offspring
are dedicated through fire to the idol, causes a rupture between the Divine
Presence and the unified assembly of Israel. This is because that which is
created (the children) should be a source of blessing that benefits the entire
community in the land of Israel. If, however, the creation is offered to
Molech, the nation and the land are deprived of that blessing.
In his comments to Vayikra 18:21, Ramban – who holds that the children were
not just passed through the fire, but burned to death, for Molech – suggests
another reading for “to defile My Mikdash.” He writes:
It is possible that it says so because one who offers of his offspring to
Molech, and afterwards comes to the Sanctuary of Hashem to offer a sacrifice,
defiles the Sanctuary, because his sacrifices are defiled and are an
abomination to Hashem, and he himself is forever defiled, for he has been
defiled by the evil that he has done…
So the Mikdash of our verse is the same as the Mikdash of the beginning of our
portion, referring to the Sanctuary. Ramban’s idea is taken from the prophet
…and they have also caused their children, whom they bore to Me, to pass
through [fire] to be consumed. Furthermore, this they have done to Me: they
have defiled My Sanctuary on that day, and they have violated My Shabbatot;
for when they have slain their children to their idols, then they came to My
Sanctuary on the same day to desecrate it. And behold, so have they done
within My House.
In the picture painted by Yechezkel, the sinner’s perfidy is shown by his
sacrifices to Molech and to Hashem. He pays his respects to both equally –
“playing the odds,” “covering all bases” – and thus desecrates Hashem’s
Sanctuary. (In fact, chapters 22-23 of the book of Yechezkel make numerous
references to our portion.)
Finally, Ibn Ezra says that the sin of Molech will defile the Sanctuary “which
is in the land of Israel.” In the view of Ibn Ezra, all of Vayikra, Chapter
20, discusses those transgressions which desecrate the holiness of the land of
Israel. And (although he has a different understanding of the sin of Molech),
Ibn Ezra’s reading provides us with another conception of Mikdash: the holiest
place in the land of Israel. The sin of Molech will defile the land, reaching
even to the Temple.
We have, therefore, three ways of understanding Mikdash in our verse:
The revolting sin of Molech affects the sanctity and pervades
all these interrelated entities.
In the upcoming week, we will celebrate Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence
Day. The Torah challenges us to build Israel into a Mikdash at all levels: a
holy society living in its holy land. Then we may look forward to the
rebuilding of the Holy Temple, which will unite us with Hashem.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
prohibition of eating the fruit that grows in the first three years after
a tree has been planted, occupies an interesting position among
agricultural mitzvot. Orlah has elements of both Mitzvot hateluyot
ba'Aretz - Mitzvot applicable only in Israel - as well as applications
outside of Eretz Yisrael. Generally, orlah rules apply to fruit from
outside of Israel. However, in a case of safek orlah where the Halachic
status of the fruit is in doubt, fruit that grew in Eretz Yisrael is
forbidden, but that which grew in chutz la'aretz is permitted.
In Kiddushin 37a, we learn that in Eretz Yisrael orlah is forbidden by
Torah law, whereas outside of Eretz Yisrael the prohibition is a halachah
leMosheh miSinai, i.e., a law that has no Scriptural basis, but according
to tradition, was given to Mosheh orally at the same time as the written
Torah. This accounts for the difference regarding safek orlah. Chazal
propose two reasons for the different status of orlah inside and outside
of Eretz Yisrael. They first suggest that the Scriptural law of orlah
applies only in Eretz Yisrael because the relevant Torah section opens
with the words, "When you come to the land and plant...(Vayikra 19, 23)."
Chazal, however, reject that explanation, pointing out that the mitzvot of
tefillin and of firstborn domestic animals are also introduced with those
words, and yet they apply even in chutz la'aretz. They then propose that
since orlah is a chovat karka, "an obligation of the land," the
prohibition has particular significance in Eretz Yisrael.
The Or HaChaim sees the pasuk in Vayikra as bringing together three
distinct mitzvot: (a) the duty of aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, (b) the duty to
plant fruit trees in Eretz Yisrael, and (c) the duty to observe the
mitzvah of orlah. He then suggests that we may understand the fruit trees
as a metaphor for talmidei chachamim, the verse thus implying that Torah
study is best in Eretz Yisrael.
The mitzvah of orlah, like many other mitzvot, clearly has special import
and meaning in Eretz Yisrael. Other mitzvot can be done only in Eretz
Yisrael. We have a choice. We can perform our mitzvot in a "limited" way
in chutz la'aretz or strive to observe them in the optimal manner in Eretz
Yisrael. Which option shall we choose?
Chaya Passow, Yerushalayim
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320