There is a widespread belief that deceptive advertising, misleading information and fake news began with the advent of mass media and intensified with social media. While such practices have certainly been very prevalent in recent decades, and we are subject to them constantly, it is worthwhile to understand that it is a very ancient practice. So old in fact, that the Torah deals with it and shows us how to address it.
The Torah tells us in this week’s Parsha, that one who gives over his child to Molech, deserves to be put to death by stoning (Vayikra 20:2). This seemingly bizarre form of Avoda Zara (idolatry) consisted of having the child pass through fire. The Mefarshim (commentators) disagree whether this resulted in the child’s death. The great Rishon, Rabbeinu Bachye, is of the opinion that it did not cause physical harm to the child.
…deceptive advertising, misleading information and fake news … is a very ancient practice.Quoting the Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed) of the Rambam, Rabbeinu Bachye explains the background to this unusual ritual and the Torah’s reaction to it. Serving this god Molech in this particular manner took hold among many of the ancients, and as is common, they were eager to attract adherents to their religion. Not letting facts or truth deter them, they put it `out there’ that any child who does not undergo this ritual is in danger of dying in childhood. This canard took especially strong hold with impressionable young mothers, who were the ones primarily responsible for the children. Those who followed through and committed this act of idolatry because of this deception, convinced themselves that they were acting out of love, compassion and concern for their children.
This is astounding! Isn’t a Jewish mother’s greatest wish that her child grow up in the ways of his parents? Is not getting involved with idolatry, a direct repudiation of everything holy, the exact antithesis of such a dream? How can some fake theory that says, if you don’t do a certain something (pass your child through fire), the consequences will be catastrophic, become an accepted fact? Nevertheless, we see the power of deception. Normal, sincere people can be easily misled.
It is because of the likelihood that many would be susceptible to the spurious claims, and the apparent mass following that Molech garnered, that the Torah, as Rabbeinu Bachye points out, is more forceful in proclaiming the dire consequences of serving Molech, than it is of any other Avoda Zara. It is considered a defilement of Hashem’s sanctified places and Hashem’s reaction is “and I will set My face against that man and his family” (Pasuk 5)
So much of the information and `facts’ that we internalize in our generation, and especially in these wildly unprecedented days, may be coming from sources that are not sincere, careful about the truth or are downright dishonest. Many values and attitudes take root among us based on this disinformation. We sometimes operate under assumptions that are false and antithetical to Torah beliefs and values.
Those who … committed this act of idolatry … convinced themselves that they were acting out of love, compassion and concern for their children.The Rabbinical leadership of each generation is tasked with maintaining our Mesorah (traditions), helping people and communities make proper decisions about the complex issues of the day and to articulate Daas Torah, Torah opinion, about ideas and values of contemporary society. Just as the Torah `reacted’ strongly to the mass appeal of Molech, our Gedolim speak out strongly, where necessary, to counter the misguided notions of society’s leading thinkers and influencers. When we hear of Rabbinic pronouncements that don’t jibe with our thinking, it is important to trace back to where our assumptions and values originated. We should at least stop and think about why is it that I am not in agreement with the words of the Rabbis.
This basic tenet of Yahadus, belief in and adherence to the guidance of our Torah leadership, is tested in all generations, but perhaps none more than ours and never more than the present situation. We owe it to ourselves and our children, as Ma’aminim b’nei Ma’aminim (believers, the sons of believers) to think about and strengthen our Emunas Chachomim (trust in authentic Torah leaders) to be guided by their wisdom, insight and Torah knowledge. When one of our children asks a question or even challenges a practice of ours, our reaction could be –“that’s an important question. Let’s check with the Rav.”
…that’s an important question. Let’s check with the Rav.As we endure more and more time locked in our homes and are confronted and challenged by our new, unwelcome circumstances, we need to seize the unique opportunities granted us as well. We have more time to interact with our children, more opportunities to find moments when we can connect on a deeper level and share our inner values in a more meaningful way. Just as we imparted at the Pesach Seder, the unbreakable, eternal bond between Hashem and Klal Yisrael, so too do we need to plant the concept of Emunas Chachomim deep into our children, to enable them to grow as Bnei Torah, as people who walk in the ways of Hashem by following the guidance and authority of our Torah leaders.
Best wishes for a Shabbos of connection,