Ki Teitzei 2

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero



Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


This week’s portion contains the well known commandment of the ben sorrer u’moreh — the wayward son.

“If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not hearken to the voice of his father and voice of his mother, and they discipline him, but he does not listen to them. Then his mother and father shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of the city... They shall say to the elders of the 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 the city shall pelt him with stones, and he shall die” (Deut. Ch. 21 V.18-21).

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 70a) explains he must have stolen enough money from his parents to purchase and consume a large amount of meat and wine. The Talmud explains, furthermore, that he is not put to death because of the sins he has committed.  Rather, he is put to death because of his inevitable end — if he has done all this at such a young age, he will end up much worse. This seems to be quite extreme, to put someone to death for ignoring his parents and stealing from them.

The Talmud goes on to say (Ibid. 71a) that because of all the specifications needed to convict someone in such a situation, that the case of the wayward and rebellious son never has happened, and never will happen.   If so, what is the point of even mentioning the commandment? The Torah is meant to be a guide.  Why mention something strictly hypothetical?

Obviously, by mentioning this commandment G-d is trying to teach us something.

One thing we can learn from this is the order of our priorities. Very often, you will hear people say, “Sure, Judaism is important, but nothing is as important as family.” This commandment demonstrates the misguidance of such a position. Family, of course, is perhaps the most important tangible thing to a person.  The essence of a person, however, is such that our whole lives are only possible because of G-d. He does not demand impossible things from us, and as we see regarding this specific commandment, parents were never forced to bring their children to be killed. Thus our mindset must constantly be one of proper perspective. That perspective is that our most precious thing is our relationship with G-d.

A second thing we can learn from this commandment is the idea of punishment. The Jewish way of punishment, as has been stated here many times, is never one of vindictiveness or revenge. Rather, it is rehabilitative and merciful. When this young man is put to death it is the ultimate mercy. Judaism strongly believes in the duality of a human being, the physical body and the soul. The ultimate goal is a synchronicity between them. Nevertheless, if the person has committed heinous sins, or, in our case, is strongly headed on that path (obviously a person can change, as we believe in free will, but in this situation, it appears as if he won’t), he must forfeit his temporal body in order to enable his eternal soul to exist. This is an act of mercy. It also explains, as previously mentioned, why a person should love G-d before family.  He is ultimately, in placing his love and trust in G-d, insuring the best result for his family — even if that result would lead to his son being put to death.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

Home ] Up ]