Ki Teitzei 2
week’s portion contains the well known commandment of the ben sorrer u’moreh
— the wayward son.
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).
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
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.
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?
by mentioning this commandment G-d is trying to teach us something.
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.
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
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.