Among the list of those offenses punishable by stoning, the Mishnah in Sanhedrin 7:4 mentions the issur of molech. Molech is mentioned only three times in the Torah (Vayikra 18 and 20 and Devarim 18) and very few details are given of the issur. While the mefarshei HaTorah and Gemara disagree regarding a number of points, what emerges is that Molech is a sort of avodah zara (and even that fact is a machlokes Tannaim) in which a parent would hand over his child to the avodah zarah priests and the child would then be passed through fire. The Mishnah in 7:7 explains that one is only chayav s’kila if those two criteria are met: there is a mesira to the priests and the child is passed through the fire.
One fascinating din regarding molech is what the Gemara says in 64b that a person who passes all of his kids through fire is patur mis’kila. The reason given in the Gemara is that the pasuk in Vayikra 18 says “umizar’acha”, from which we learn that only if one gives from his offspring and not all of them. While this din can be taken as a gezeiras hakasuv, the mefarshim give various sevaras to understand this halacha.
The Maharal inBe’er Hagolah, cited in Margaliyos Hayam, says that standard practice is that what one gives to Hashem (and l’havdil, to avodah zarah according to them) is a miktzas davar. Some common examples are terumos, ma’aseros and challah. When a person retains a portion then it is clear and recognizable that Hashem bestowed upon him this goodness in the first place. However, when a person gives everything, it is not considered “giving” because that is not an honour to Hashem. The same is true l’havdil, by molech, and passing all of one’s children is not considered giving to molech.
Rash ben haRashbatz, also cited by Margaliyos Hayam, provides a different logic. It is known that for one to be chayav s’kila for avodah zarah one must either do one of the four avodahs (Sanhedrin 7:6) or perform the avodah that is specific and unique to that particular avodah zarah. Apparently, the avodah of molech was davka practiced with one (or not all) of one’s children. Thus, if one was oved with all of his kids, this is not the special avodah of molech and thus one is patur.
The Maharsha on this Gemara brings down the Smag who explains that a person who is killed by beis din receives kapara. A person who passes all of his kids through fire has committed such a terrible aveirah that the Torah tells us that Hashem does not want this person to get kapara. Hashem will take care of him.
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