לזנות אחרי המולך לרבות שאר עבודה זרה שעבדה בכך ואפילו אין זו דרך עבודתה לשון רש"י (רש"י על ויקרא כ׳:ה׳) וכבר כתב עוד בסדר אחרי מות (לעיל יח כא) שהמולך היא עבודה זרה ששמה מולך וזו היא עבודתה שמוסר בנו לכומרים וכו' וכל זה איננו עולה ומתוקן כהוגן לפי העיון בגמרא (סנהדרין סד) כי לדברי האומר מולך עבודה זרה הוא אין עבודתו של אותו עבודה זרה בהעברת הבנים לה שאם כן לא הוצרך הכתוב להזכיר זה כלל שהרי הוא באזהרת עובד עבודה זרה שבאו בה כמה אזהרות בתורה כלליות והוא גם כן בכלל העונש הנאמר בפרשת כי ימצא בקרבך איש או אשה אשר יעשה את הרע בעיני ה' אלהיך לעבור בריתו וילך ויעבוד אלהים אחרים וישתחו להם (דברים יז ב ג) אבל על כרחנו נדרוש שכל עיקר לא בא הכתוב אלא לחייב על העבודה הזאת של העברת הזרע בשלא כדרכה וכך אמרו בגמרא (סנהדרין שם) ולמאן דאמר מולך עבודה זרה הוא כרת דמולך למה לי למעביר בנו שלא כדרכה והוא הדין לעונש ואזהרה האמורין בו שלא הוצרכו אלא למעביר בנו שלא כדרכה ונראה שלפי הדעת הזו לשון מולך אינו שם לפסל וצלם מיוחד אלא שם לכל נעבד בכללם כל שתמליכהו ותקבלנו עליך לאלוה והנה כפי הדעת הזו יקראו בני עמון לשקוץ שלהן "מולך" (מלכים א יא ז) כי הוא מלכם והוא שם כולל לכל נעבד כי הוא מלשון מלכות ולא כדברי הרב ז"ל שאמר שהיא ע"ז ששמה מולך ועבודתה בכך וכן מה שכתב פה שהוצרך "לזנות אחרי המולך" לרבות שאר ע"ז שעבדה בכך ואפילו אין זו דרך עבודתה גם כן אי אפשר מן הטעם שהזכרנו שכל עצמו לא נאמר הכרת במולך אלא לחייבו בשאין דרכו וכל ע"ז במשמע ולא יתכן שתאמר חייב הכתוב כרת באותה ע"ז ששמה מולך במעביר לו שלא כדרכו וחזר ורבה בו אף פעור ומרקוליס לכרת וכי למה יצטרך הכתוב לכך מאי שנא אותה ע"ז משאר כל ע"ז שבעולם ועוד שאם כן היה צריך לרבות עוד מעביר בנו לפעור ומרקוליס בסקילה כשם שריבה אותו לכרת אלא לא הזכיר הכתוב מולך כל עיקר בין באזהרה (לעיל יח כא) בין בעונש כרת וסקילה (כאן) אלא במעביר בנו בשלא כדרכה לכל ע"ז שבעולם ובין שתאמר שהמולך הוא שם לכל ע"ז כמו שפירשנו או שתאמר שהיא ע"ז ידועה שתקרא כך הזכיר הכתוב אותה ע"ז בשלא כדרכה והוא הדין לכולן שהחומר הזה הוא בעבור העבודה הקשה הזו וכן מוכיח כל זה בגמרא במסכת סנהדרין (סנהדרין ס״ד) לפי הדעת הזו שכתב הרב שהמולך ע"ז הוא אבל משנתנו היא שנויה כדברי האומר מולך לאו ע"ז היא כלומר שאינו נעבד שיקובל עליהם כאלוה כלל אבל הוא כמעשה כישוף לדרוש בעד החיים אל הכלב המת ההוא ולפי הדעת הזו העביר בנו לפעור או למרקוליס פטור גם דברי רש"י בפירושיו בסנהדרין כך הם כמו שכתבנו והברייתא השנויה בתורת כהנים (קדושים י יג) והכרתי אותו ואת כל הזונים אחריו לזנות אחרי המולך לרבות שאר ע"ז בהכרת אינו מייתור "לזנות אחרי המולך" כמשמע מדברי הרב אבל יאמר כי הכרת הזה כולו מיותר הוא ונדרוש אותו לשאר ע"ז והוא מה שאמרו בגמרא (סנהדרין סד) שלש כריתות בע"ז למה אחת כדרכה ואחת לשלא כדרכה כלומר לזבוח וקטור ונסוך והשתחויה שנתרבו שלא כדרכה למיתה ומחייב אותן בכאן בהכרת ואחת למולך ולמאן דאמר מולך ע"ז הוא למעביר בנו שלא כדרכה כלומר בכל ע"ז שבעולם כמו שהזכרנו: TO GO ASTRAY AFTER THE MOLECH. “This is intended to include any other idol that was worshipped in that way [i.e., by a person passing his children through the fire], even if that particular idol is ordinarily not worshipped that way.” This is Rashi’s language. Now Rashi has already written in the section of Acharei Moth219Ibid. that the Molech is “an idol the name of which is ‘Molech,’ and this was the way in which it was worshipped: he would hand over his child to the priests etc.” But all this does not conform and agree properly with the Gemara’s conclusion220Sanhedrin 64 a-b. as it appears after deliberation. For according to the opinion of the Sage who says that Molech is an idol [and not a name for a form of witchcraft], the worship thereof was not by passing children through the fire, for if so there was no need at all for Scripture to mention this, [i.e., the passing through fire] since it would be included in the admonition against worshipping the idols [in the manner in which they are usually worshipped], of which there are many general prohibitions in the Torah, and it is also included in the punishment stated in the section If there be found in the midst of thee … man or woman, that doeth that which is evil in the sight of the Eternal thy G-d, in transgressing His covenant, and hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them.221Deuteronomy 17:2-3. Rather, we must perforce interpret [if Molech is the name of a particular idol] that the essential purpose of Scripture in mentioning [this particular form of worship], was only to make one liable for passing one’s children [through fire] even if that particular idol is not ordinarily worshipped in that manner. And thus the Rabbis have said in the Gemara:220Sanhedrin 64 a-b. “And according to the Sage who is of the opinion that Molech is an idol, why did Scripture state [the punishment of] excision in the case of Molech [when it is already included in the general punishment for all idol-worship]? It is to apply it in the case of one who passes his son [through the fire in honor of any idol, even if that idol is] not ordinarily worshipped in that manner.” And the same reasoning applies to the punishment and the admonition which Scripture mentioned with reference to it [this particular form of worship], that they were only necessary [if we hold that Molech is an idol] for the case of one who passed his son [through fire] to an idol which is not normally worshipped in that manner.
It would appear that according to this opinion [that the Molech was idol-worship, and that the main reason why Scripture mentioned this particular form of worship was to prohibit and punish the practice thereof even as an abnormal manner of worship of all other idols], that the term “Molech” is not a name for a particular graven image or statute, but is a general name for anything that is worshipped, “anything which you accept as your king and take upon you as your god.” In accordance with this opinion, the children of Ammon called their abhorrence Molech,222I Kings 11:7. The word “abhorrence” is the term of the Rabbis for idols, which we are to abhor. See Deuteronomy 7:26. because he was their king, the term Molech thus being a general name for all things honored [as deities], for it is derived from the term malchuth (royalty). It is thus not like the Rabbi [Rashi] said [in the preceding section of Acharei Moth], that Molech is “an idol the name of which is ‘Molech,’ and the manner of its worship” was as mentioned. Similarly, that which Rashi wrote here that the phrase to go astray after the Molech “is necessary to include any other idol that was worshipped in that way, even if that particular idol is ordinarily not worshipped in that way” — this interpretation too, is impossible [to accept] for the reason that we have mentioned, namely, that the essential basis for the punishment of excision mentioned specifically in the case of the Molech, is to make one liable for practicing before an idol even if the idol is not ordinarily worshipped in that manner, and this includes all idols! [Hence it is not necessary to include them on the basis of the phrase before us in Verse 5 — to go astray after the Molech — when this point is already established the overall statement of excision mentioned in Verse 3 which essentially prohibits that kind of worship to any idol, even if it is not normally worshipped in that way]! It is also impossible to say that Scripture made one liable to excision in the case of that idol the name of which is “Molech,” although passing a child through the fire before it was not its usual mode of worship, and that then it reverts [in the verse before us, stating to go astray after Molech, in order, as Rashi said] to include in the punishment of excision he [who passes through the fire of his seed] to Peor or Merkulis [which was also an abnormal mode of worshipping them]. For why was it necessary for Scripture to mention it [i.e., Molech] altogether? Why was that idol [called “Molech” or “Peor” or “Merkulis”] different from all other idols [since the Torah has already prohibited passing one’s children through fire before any idol, under punishment of excision even if that particular idol is ordinarily not worshipped that way]? Moreover, if so you would need a special verse to include one who passes his child through the fire to Peor or Merkulis in the punishment of stoning [if there were witnesses to his act and he was given the proper warning], just as Scripture [according to Rashi] included him in the punishment of excision [when there were no witnesses]!
Rather, [we must conclude] that Scripture only mentioned the admonition, and the punishments of excision and stoning, in the case of Molech, with reference to one who passes his child through the fire to any idol whatsoever, even if that is not its usual mode of worship. Thus whether you say that the term Molech is a name for all idols [since the name is derived from the word malchuth, (royalty)] as we have explained, or whether you say [as Rashi does] that Molech is the name of a particular idol that was so called, [we must say, as explained above] that Scripture mentioned it [in order to prohibit this practice even] if it be an abnormal mode of worship [of that idol, i.e., Molech]; the same law applying to all idols, for this stringency is on account of the frightfulness of this mode of worship. All this is made clear in the Gemara of Tractate Sanhedrin220Sanhedrin 64 a-b. according to this opinion which the Rabbi [Rashi] wrote, that the Molech was an idol. But our Mishnah [which mentions first “the idolator” and then “he that offers of his seed to Molech,” thus indicating that Molech is not an idol, for otherwise this would have been included under the law of “the idolator”],223This point is clearly made in the Gemara in Sanhedrin 64 a, in commenting on the Mishnah. is taught in accordance with the opinion of the Sage who says that Molech was not an idol, meaning to say, it was not worshipped in a manner of being accepted as a god, but instead it was like a practice of witchcraft, to seek on behalf of the living unto the dead,224Isaiah 8:19. unto this dead dog.225II Samuel 16:9. According to this opinion, one who passed his seed through the fire to Peor or Merkulis, is not liable [since that form of witchcraft was performed only before Molech, and the Torah specifically mentioned that this practice of witchcraft was done before Molech].226If Molech is held to have been an idol, then, as explained in Ramban above, there was no need for the Torah to prohibit and punish its practice specifically, since it was included in the many general prohibitions against idolatry. We were therefore forced to say that the reason why the Torah specifically mentioned Molech and its practice, was to prohibit that practice to any idol, even if that particular idol was not normally worshipped in that way. Also, the term “Molech” must be an expression not for a particular idol, but for any idol, the word being of the root malchuth (royalty), as the act of idol worship meant that the idolator accepted the idol as his god. But if Molech is held to have been a form of witchcraft [and not a mode of idol worship], then if one is to perform that practice before Peor or Merkulis, it would not come under that specific prohibition which the Torah singled out, and hence he would be free from the punishment of death, although — needless to state — he has committed a heinous sin. Rashi’s words in his commentaries to Tractate Sanhedrin227Rashi, Sanhedrin 64 a. See my Hebrew commentary p. 129, where this text of Rashi is quoted. are also as we have written. And the Beraitha taught in the Torath Kohanim228Torath Kohanim, Kedoshim 10:15. [which was the source for Rashi’s comment mentioned at the beginning of this verse]: “And I will cut him off, and all that go astray after him, to go astray after Molech. This is intended to include the case of any other idol [which was worshipped in that way, that the worshipper is liable to the punishment of] excision” — the interpretation of this Beraitha is not based upon the redundant expression to go astray after Molech, as appears from the words of the Rabbi [Rashi]. Rather, the Beraitha is stating that this whole [Scriptural passage laying down the law of] excision is redundant, and therefore we are to apply it to any other idol that was worshipped in that way. It is this which the Rabbis have stated in the Gemara:229Sanhedrin 64 b. “Why is excision mentioned thrice [as the punishment] for idolatry?230Verses 3 and 5 here; Numbers 15:31. It is prescribed once for [worshipping an idol in] the customary manner; once for worshipping it in a non-customary manner,” that is, if he sacrifices, or burns incense, or pours a libation, or bows down before an idol,231See “The Commandments,” Vol. II, pp. 4-6, that these four modes of worship are forbidden to be done before any idol, even if the idol is not ordinarily worshipped in that manner. which have been included under the punishment of death232Exodus 22:19: He that sacrificeth unto the gods shall be utterly destroyed. And see “The Commandments,” Vol. II, p. 6. even if the idol is not ordinarily worshipped in that manner, and here [in the verse before us] they are made liable to excision [in the absence of witnesses]. “And once excision is mentioned for [the worship of] Molech” [for Molech is not an idol, but a form of witchcraft which the Torah prohibited by means of this strong form of punishment]. And according to the Sage who says that Molech is an idol [we must perforce say that the reason why the Torah singled out the Molech is in order to prohibit and punish] passing a child through the fire before any idol whatever, even if the idol is not ordinarily worshipped in that manner, as we have mentioned.