Parshat Ki Tetzei תשע”ט
The boy was trouble from Day One. Even in the hospital, the nurses couldn’t figure out how to make him happy and stop his incessant crying. As he got older, the crying stopped, but the mischief and mean tricks he played on his siblings and friends only got worse. No school could keep him, and the only thing that he could do competently was cause trouble, which he did abundantly. Nothing his parents said to him or did to him had any effect on his behavior. Consultation after consultation with educational specialists yielded no improvement. As much as they tried, and try they did, they could find nothing that would change him. Stealing from his parents was something that he did regularly to help him pay for his gluttonous habits of eating meat and drinking wine. By the time of his Bar Mitzvah, he was a full-fledged terror. After his Bar Mitzvah, when he became an adult, his parents actually took him to court for stealing from them, and the court administered the standard punishment lashes. This was the first time that he had experienced such a harsh punishment, yet the hope was that he would finally learn his lesson. Unfortunately, he again stole enough to buy himself a nice-sized steak with a bottle of strong wine, and then he only partially grilled the steak and washed it down with the wine. What are parents of such a child to do? He just turned thirteen and this is the way he is acting; can you imagine what he will do as an adult?
The Torah answers this question. In this week’s Parshah, the laws of the “בן סורר ומורה”—“The Rebellious Child”—are presented. The Torah says (Deuteronomy 21:18-21):
“כִּי יִהְיֶה לְאִישׁ בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל אָבִיו וּבְקוֹל אִמּוֹ וְיִסְּרוּ אֹתוֹ וְלֹא יִשְׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם
וְתָפְשׂוּ בוֹ אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ וְהוֹצִיאוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל זִקְנֵי עִירוֹ וְאֶל שַׁעַר מְקֹמוֹ
וְאָמְרוּ אֶל זִקְנֵי עִירוֹ בְּנֵנוּ זֶה סוֹרֵר וּמֹרֶה אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ בְּקֹלֵנוּ זוֹלֵל וְסֹבֵא
וּרְגָמֻהוּ כָּל אַנְשֵׁי עִירוֹ בָאֲבָנִים וָמֵת וּבִעַרְתָּ הָרָע מִקִּרְבֶּךָ וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל יִשְׁמְעוּ וְיִרָאוּ”
“If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they discipline him, but he does not hearken to them; Then his father and mother shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of his city, at the city gate. They shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not listen to our voice, he is a glutton and a drunkard.” All the men of his city shall pelt him with stones and he shall die; and you shall remove the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear and they shall fear.”
This is a permanent (!) solution to the problem. You can be sure that once the kid is dead, he will never steal, or eat meat and drink wine again.
It is easy to see that this “solution” works, but is this all that our wonderful Torah has to offer? And is this real? Are parents really expected to hand their child over to the court to have him killed —just because he stole some money and partied a bit with it?
In these four short verses, however, the Torah reveals a profound, essential life-truth.
The Talmud tells us (Sanhedrin 71a):
“אמר רבי שמעון וכי מפני שאכל זה תרטימר בשר ושתה חצי לוג יין האיטלקי אביו ואמו מוציאין אותו לסקלו?
אלא לא היה ולא עתיד להיות ולמה נכתב דרוש וקבל שכר”
“Rabbi Shimon said: Because he ate a Tartimar [4 ounces] of meat and drank a half a Log [7 ounces] of Italian wine—his father and mother must take him out to have him stoned?
“ In reality, however, a wayward child never happened and never will! Why then, did the Torah speak about it? To learn from it and derive reward.”
The Sages are telling us that our opening scenario can never happen. It is impossible that a child should be so bad that the parents must have him killed.
The Torah is neither a storybook nor a history book. It is the Book of Life, with all the important lessons we need, to live our lives to the fullest. One of the most important components of Jewish life is raising healthy wholesome Jewish children. The Torah tells us many times to teach our children Torah and the Mitzvot. A Jew who leads his life according to the Torah’s laws and values will live a most upstanding and meaningful life, and this is what we want for our children. These few verses about the “Wayward Son” are chock-full of valuable lessons on how to raise our children.
This is what is meant by, “To learn from it and derive reward.” If we learn the lessons of how to raise our children correctly from the “Wayward Child”, we will reap the reward of having wonderful Jewish children.
Mishnah Sanhedrin 8:5a teaches us:
“בן סורר ומורה נידון על שם סופו ימות זכאי ואל ימות חייב שמיתתן של רשעים הנאה להן והנאה לעולם לצדיקים רע להן ורע לעולם”
“The rebellious son is judged [now] based on what his future will be. Let him die meritorious [now] and not die guilty [later]. For the death of evil people is good for them and good for the world, while the death of righteous people is bad for them and bad for the world.”
The “Rebellious Son” is not sentenced to death for the seemingly trivial crime of eating meat and drinking wine. These activities alone certainly do not subject him to the death penalty.
Rather, the Torah has predicted that, based on his uncontrolled behavior even at such a young age, he is on the path to becoming a thief and a murderer. Once he has developed such a gluttonous lifestyle, when he will later not have what he wants, he will steal and murder to get it. A confirmed murderer receives the death penalty; but we are nonetheless administering it here, to this thirteen-year old boy, before he actually kills anybody so that he will not die with blood on his hands. In other words, since he is destined to receive the death penalty one way or the other, it is better that he die now, before an innocent life has been lost and before he has the guilt of spilt blood on his hands. This is the Torah’s rationale for having him killed.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers” (4:16) states:
“רַבִּי יַעֲקֹב אוֹמֵר, הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה דּוֹמֶה לַפְּרוֹזְדוֹר בִּפְנֵי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. הַתְקֵן עַצְמְךָ בַפְּרוֹזְדוֹר, כְּדֵי שֶׁתִּכָּנֵס לַטְּרַקְלִין”
“Rabbi Yaakov said: This world is like a hallway. The World To Come is like a Great Hall. Prepare yourself in the hallway, so that you may enter the Great Hall”.
This world’s purpose is to prepare for the World To Come where we will reap the rewards of our deeds in this world, good and bad. The only things that we will have there, are what we put there through our actions here, in this world. If a person has committed crimes in this world, he will face them in the World To Come, and he will be punished for them. This is why death for an evil person is “good” for him, since he can no longer do any evil. The longer he lives, the more evil he will do, and the more he will have to pay for, in the World To Come.
A Jew’s focus in this world is the Next World. We indeed are in this world solely to earn reward in the World To Come, not for this world’s momentary and transitory pleasures. This is why we have children: To give them the opportunity to earn reward in the World To Come. If a child will earn only punishment for himself in the World To Come, he is better off not being here. Parents who brought a child into this world with the goal of giving him the opportunity to earn reward in the World To Come, but realize that their little son is on the path to becoming a murderer who will have nothing but pain and suffering in that later world, are doing him the biggest favor by turning him over to the court and ending his life before he gets there. He will then have a much better place in the World To Come instead of having to account for a life of crime and murder. As cruel as they may seem, these parents really have their son’s best interest in mind.
How can parents be expected to have the strength to bring their own child to court to be killed? Every parent loves their child no matter how bad he is.
Our forefather Avraham provides the precedent. HaShem told him to sacrifice his only son, Yitzchak, and he was prepared to do so with no qualms. Yitzchak was not a problem child. On the contrary, he was a compete Tzadik who was positioned to continue his father’s holy work of spreading belief in HaShem—One G-d. Yet, Avraham was prepared to sacrifice him to HaShem, understanding that this world is a transient one and that the World To Come is eternal. HaShem obviously had Avraham’s portion in the World To Come in mind, and it makes sense to sacrifice in this temporary world for the eternal reward of the World To Come.
As Avraham’s grandchildren, we also have the strength of character to make difficult choices for the sake of our children. It is part of our inheritance from him.
Our Sages point out that HaShem deals with his children, the Jewish people, in the same way. When they rebel and violate the Torah, HaShem, for the sake of their portion in the World To Come, will judge them and possibly have them leave this world meritorious rather than with much sin on their hands.
The perspective that this world is only half of the picture provides the answer to many dilemmas in Judaism. Why do righteous people suffer? Why do evil people prosper? The answer is—“The World To Come.” HaShem is keeping track for generations to pay children for the actions of their ancestors. We can only see the half that transpires down here on this earth; so much more than what we see is hidden from our sight.
Many conditions are required before a child can be killed as a rebellious child. The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 6:4) says:
“הָיָה אֶחָד מֵהֶם גִּדֵּם אוֹ חִגֵּר אוֹ אִלֵּם אוֹ סוּמָא אוֹ חֵרֵשׁ, אֵינוֹ נַעֲשֶׂה בֵן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים כא, יט-כ) “וְתָפְשׁוּ בוֹ אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ”, וְלֹא גִדְּמִין. “וְהוֹצִיאוּ אֹתוֹ”, וְלֹא חִגְּרִין. “וְאָמְרוּ”, וְלֹא אִלְּמִין. “בְּנֵנוּ זֶה”, וְלֹא סוּמִין. “אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ בְּקֹלֵנוּ”, וְלֹא חֵרְשִׁין”
“If one of the parents was missing a hand or was lame, or was mute, blind or deaf, the son does not become a rebellious child.”
These laws are derived from Biblical verses. Although these laws must be taken literally, we can also learn a lesson from them.
“Neither parent can be missing a hand”. Metaphorically speaking, this may refer to the parents’ educational style. They were “hands-off” parents. They did not feel it was right to micromanage their son, and, instead, gave him a lot of freedom, which is why he went astray. He felt that his parents didn’t care what he did, so he did what he wanted to do. A child needs two parents to raise him. If even one of the parents was, so to speak, “missing a hand” and not deeply involved in his upbringing, it is not fair to blame the child for his difficult behavior. It’s not his fault; it’s his parents’ fault for not paying the proper attention to him.
“Neither parent can be missing a foot”. Metaphorically, again, if a parent is missing a foot, he cannot follow his child to see where he is going and to be sure that he is only going to appropriate places. He cannot chase his child when he needs to speak with him. In the same way, if parents liberally permitted their child to go anywhere he wanted, they cannot blame the child for his behavior. It is their fault for allowing him to go places where he would hang out with undesirable people and learn from their actions.
“If either parent is mute”, the child cannot become a rebellious child. This is simple to understand. If a parent cannot speak with his child to explain to him what is right and what is wrong, how can you blame the child for not knowing? He was never told! If his parents were able to speak, but they never spoke to him to impart to him proper Jewish values, proper conduct, maybe a criticism here or there, and, most of all, love and compassion for him, it is no wonder the boy has strayed and become rebellious. Once again, we cannot blame him; here again, the blame lies with the parents.
“If one of the parents was blind”, the child cannot receive the status of a rebellious child. Even if parents see very well, but they turn a blind eye to the development of their child, once again, we cannot blame the child for not correcting his ways. Nobody said he was doing anything wrong, so he thought he was doing OK.
“If either parent is deaf” and couldn’t hear the child’s pleas or his problems, again he is not to be blamed. Parents must always listen carefully to what their children are saying. If they detect foreign ideas, improper expressions or ideas coming out of their children’s mouths, they must question the source of those inappropriate words. Parents must always be ready to listen to their child when he has something bothering him and needs someone to speak to. Parents must always be ready to answer their children’s questions so they have the correct answer and the information they need to go to the next level in their growth. If the parents were “deaf” to their child and told him to “Get lost!” when he needed to speak to them, it is not his fault that he turned out the way that he did. He called out for help but no one heard his voice.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 71a) says further:
רבי יהודה אומר אם לא היתה אמו שוה לאביו בקול ובמראה ובקומה אינו נעשה בן סורר ומורה
“Rabbi Yehudah says: If his mother was not equal to his father with the same voice, appearance, and stature, their son is not eligible to be a rebellious son.”
How is it possible that a man and a woman have the same voice and appearance? A man is distinctly a man and a woman is distinctly a woman.
Maybe this is also metaphorical. It is saying that father and mother must be on the same page as far as their values and morals are concerned, and they must both be speaking the same language of what is good and what is bad. If they have different ideas about what is good and what is bad and are always bickering about it, the child will grow up confused without a secure foundation of values to consult with and to build upon. This is why he has become rebellious; he is confused and without clear understanding of right and wrong.
Similarly, parents must be consistent in how they dress and how they appear to others. A husband can’t display one type of lifestyle and the wife another. They must live compatibly in the same lifestyle. If they appear different in the eyes of others, there is something wrong and, once again, the child is not to be blamed.
Reviewing the above criteria of what exempts a child from being a “rebellious child,” we see a comprehensive list of what parents are not supposed to do, and many good lessons on how to be excellent parents so their children don’t become rebellious and reject what they are trying to teach them.
May HaShem help us all to fulfill all the conditions to be perfect parents and raise wholesome, healthy children.