“When a man has a wayward, rebellious son, who does not obey his father and mother, they shall have him flogged. If he still does not listen to them… [the parents] must declare to the elders of his city, ‘Our son is wayward and rebellious. He does not listen to us, and is an (exceptional) glutton and drunkard.’ “(Deut. 21:18)
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a) says that there never was a rebellious son executed by the court. The topic was recorded in the Torah in order to learn and receive reward. But even if there never was a rebellious son, we can learn a great deal about raising children from a careful study of the Torah’s description of the rebellious son. By studying the factors that help create a son so tainted that it is a kindness to kill him while he is still young and has not yet committed all the terrible crimes he otherwise would, we can learn to do the opposite with our own children.
It must be clear at the outset that there are no sure-fire rules of education that apply to all children at all times. Reishit Chachmah quotes a Midrash that it is easier to raise a legion of olive trees in the Galilee, where the soil and climate are not conducive to growing olive trees, than to raise one child in the Land of Israel, even though Israel is conducive to proper education, since the atmosphere itself helps to imbue one with wisdom and holiness.
Children are not objects to be fashioned at will, but rather human beings who have their own free will and can reject, if they so choose, even the best education. The most a parent can hope to achieve, as Chiddushei HaRim points out regarding all learning, is to put the words of Torah on the heart of the child so that when the heart opens up, the Torah found on it will sink into the receptive heart.
The law of the rebellious son is applicable only when the child is age 13 and for the next three months, i.e., at the very inception of his manhood. This points to the importance of a proper foundation in the education of children – that early education forms the basis of the child’s experience and hence is the root and foundation of his life.
Avot deRav Natan expounds on the Mishnah (Avot 4:25), “One who studies Torah as a child, to what can he be likened? To ink, written on fresh paper.” Just as ink is readily absorbed into new paper, so the Torah learned when young permeates the very fiber of the child’s being.
Alshich explains the injunction (Proverbs 22:6), “Educate the youth according to his path,” as a warning to put him on the proper path before he develops the wrong path on his own. The proper beginning is crucial, for it forms the root, and any blemish in the root will manifest itself a thousand-fold in the resultant growth. A strong root, however, insures a healthy plant.
The Torah describes the rebellious son as not heeding the voice (kol)of his father and mother. Maharal points out that a kol denotes a voice or noise, something not necessarily intelligible. The rebellious son listens to his parents when their words make sense to him, but when their directives are not understood by him, he ignores them.
A child must be taught to rely on his parents’ instructions and trust in their desire and ability to guide him on the proper path, even though he may not understand or grasp the wisdom of their directions. Though a parent should try to explain to the child the reasons for his directions and instructions, the child must be taught that in the end whether he understands or not, he must accept his parents’ authority.
The Talmud learns from the phrase, “he does not listen to our voices, “that to be deemed a rebellious son, both parents must have similar voices. Both parents’ guidance must reflect the same values, and they must be consistent in their instruction. If the parents do not speak with one voice, their child cannot be deemed rebellious, because the blame for his rebellious behavior is not his alone.
Further, the parents must point at their son and say, “this son of ours.”If the parents are blind and thus incapable of pointing him out, the son cannot be deemed a rebellious son. The requirement that the parents be able to see hints to the necessity of parents viewing each child as an individual, with unique gifts and needs, who must be educated according to his individual personality. If parents are blind to the child’s individuality and educate him according to a predetermined formula, the child can also not be fully blamed.
To be classified as a rebellious son, he must steal money from his parents to eat and drink like a glutton. This conduct shows, says Ibn Ezra, a distorted outlook. The glutton makes the pleasures of this world his only goal rather than seeing this world as the place to prepare for eternal spiritual life. The meat and wine he consumed could have been fully kosher. It is not enough to teach a child that he may eat only kosher food. He must also understand why, so that he does not become a Jew in form but not in substance.
The Talmud explains that the rebellious son is killed now, because if allowed to continue on the same path he will eventually become a robber and murderer. He is killed for his own benefit so that he doesn’t lose his portion in the World to Come.
From this we learn the most important lesson of child-rearing. A parent must focus on the soul of his child and his eternal status, even more intensely that his physical well-being. What parent would think of exposing his child to even a slight chance of catching a serious communicable disease? How much more so should a parent protect his child from an environment that might exert negative spiritual influences. If we worry over our child’s ability to earn a living, how much more so should we be concerned that he or she grows to be a successful Jew.
We should remember in Elul that there is no greater merit for the Day of Judgment than having raised a child properly. The Zohar teaches that when an individual appears before the Heavenly Court, after 120 years, God inquires if he educated his children properly. If the answer is affirmative, God refuses to accept any more testimony against him, for the merit of guiding his children properly overshadows everything else.
May we learn the deep lessons contained in the Torah’s discussion of the rebellious son, so that we merit raising children fully occupied in Torah and Mitzvot.
By Rabbi Zev Leff
There is an opinion in the Talmud [Sanhedrin 71a] that an actual case of ben sorer u’moreh never happened, and never will happen. It was, according to this opinion, included in the Torah merely for the lessons of life which it contains. At any rate, the chapter clearly does present lessons regarding how parents should and should not act when raising children.
Rav Dovid Feinstein makes an interesting linguistic inference from the wording in this chapter. When the Torah originally describes the situation of the ben sorer u’moreh, it states “he did not listen to the voice of his father nor to the voice of his mother” [Devorim 21:18]. However when the Torah describes the testimony of the parents in Bait Din, there is a subtle change of language: “He does not listen to OUR voice” [Devorim 21:20].
There are no secret formulas to raising good children. Raising children is the most difficult job in the world. However, there are clearly certain things parents should try to avoid. Parents should always present a unified message of their expectations to their children. When a child hears mixed messages – one thing from the father and another thing from the mother – that is a garden in which weeds can grow.
When the child hears mixed messages, he follows whatever he thinks is right. Since one parent says one thing and the other parent says another thing – “let the third pasuk [verse] come and reconcile between them.” Even if the parents present a unified approach as to what is good and what is not good, what can be done and what can not be done – there is still no guarantee that the children will come out perfect. But at least the parents have removed one of the greatest reasons why children go astray.
Therefore, the Torah stressed at the outset that the parents were not of one voice and one opinion. The child did not listen to his father’s voice and independently he did not listen to his mother’s alternate voice. Only subsequently, when the child has already left the tried and true path, do the parents come and, sadly, tell the elders of the court: “Now we are together. We have a unified voice and we know that what our son is doing is wrong.” Unfortunately, by then it is too late.
Parents may have disagreements among themselves as to what is the proper course in raising children. But those disagreements need to be decided among themselves. When parents come before their children, they need to articulate a clear, decisive, and uniform position. When they reach the status of “our voice” rather than “the father’s voice” and “the mother’s voice,” their chances for success will be much greater.
By Rabbi Yissocher Frand
A truck driver was driving along on the freeway. He passed a sign that said “low bridge ahead.”
Before he knew it, the bridge was right ahead of him and he could not avoid getting stuck under the bridge.
Cars were backed up for miles.
Finally, a police car pulled up. The cop got out of his car and walked around to the truck driver, put his hands on his hips and said, “Got stuck, huh?”
The gutsy truck driver said, “No officer, I was delivering this bridge and ran out of gas!”
The Two Small Miracles That Saved My Life on 9/11
“Did you do the book order with Baruch?” This is what my wife yelled down to me as I was walking out the door, on my way to work, at 6:45 AM, Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001.
Baruch was my fourth grader. Knowing that I did not do the book order, I turned around and came back into the house to sit with him to help him with his book order. The whole exercise took about twenty minutes. Those 20 minutes saved my life.
I got to the lobby of One World Trade Center at about 8:40 (twenty minutes later than usual) and waited in the lobby for an elevator to the 78th floor. When I got off on the 78th floor I had to walk across the 78th floor lobby in order to get to the bank of elevators that would take me up to the 101st floor where my office was located. The time was approximately 8:45.
I must have been about fifteen feet from my bank of elevators when all of a sudden there was an explosion. The building shook, the lights went out, I was thrown to the ground and there was smoke everywhere. I remember screaming, “What happened?” but there was no answer. I saw an emergency light in a hall between the two main banks of elevator and I crawled over there.
I stood up and walked to the end of the hallway that I was in and to the right I saw that there was an office with the door ajar. I walked into that office and saw people in different states. Some were hysterical some were calm and some were just numb. I went back into the hall to see what was going on and that’s when I found Virginia, my co-worker.
She had third degree burns. She kept telling me that she was in pain and she kept pleading with me not to leave her. I promised her that I would not leave her until she was safe. We ultimately found a stairwell and headed down.
As we got out of the building we headed across Church Street to a waiting ambulance. Once the ambulance was full with casualties and ready to leave Virginia turned to me and said, “Ari, you’re coming with us.” I had no choice given her insistence that I come with her and I got into the ambulance. We were one of only a few ambulances that got away from the scene that day.
Virginia thanks me every day for saving her life and I keep telling her “you got it all wrong.” Who saved whose life? If she hadn’t have insisted that I get into that ambulance I would have been standing at the base of the building when it collapsed and I would have been killed. No doubt in my mind.
I have been playing that scene over and over again in my mind for the past 15 years. A day does not go by that I don’t think about it. Since that day, my life has changed. I have been traveling the world, telling my story, talking about the miracles that happened to me that day. I have been trying to make people understand that G-d runs the world no matter what we might think.
I try to make people understand that the world is going in the wrong direction and there is only one being that we can turn to for help. Since 9/11 we had the blackout in 2003 that put 50 million people into the dark. I was trying to figure out why. Then it hit me.
We are in a state of spiritual darkness and we don’t even know it. So G-d put 50 million people in the dark to tell us “this is the spiritual darkness that you are in.” Then we had the economic meltdown. Then we had Bernie Madoff. Then ISIS.
There is a pattern here. G-d is telling us that he is not very happy with us and that we have to wake up and start turning to Him. He is the only one that can help us. As we approach Rosh Hashana, let us all take upon ourselves to pray better, to stop talking in synagogue, to do good deeds with more compassion, and to care about both sides of the Torah, those Mitzvot between man and G-d and the Mitzvot between man and his fellow man. This year let us not give G-d lip service but rather let us tell Him from the bottom of our hearts that enough is enough.
By Ari Schonbrun
1st aliya: In an illuminating sequence of emotional and legal circumstances,Moshe forewarned us of the moral and familial dangers of warfare. A soldier brings home a non-Jewish female captive. Disregarding rational and obvious differences, he marries her, has his 1st son with her, and eventually resents the discord he has fostered upon himself, his “captive wife”, and his extended family. Attempting to deny his responsibility in the “resentment turned to hatred” breaking apart his family, he attempts to deny his 1st born son’s rights. This is illegal. This can Produce the “Rebellious Son”; a child who does not value the private rights of person or property and will eventually be executed for his crimes against society. It’s a tragedy that begs us to consider the long range consequences of our actions before giving legal license to the wild beast within each of us.
2nd Aliya: The laws regarding: hanging and burial; returning lost articles; the fallen animal; transvestitism; and the birds nest are detailed.
3rd Aliya: The laws regarding: guard rails; mixed agriculture; forbidden combinations; Tzitzit; the defamed wife; if the accusations against the wife are true; the penalty for adultery; the rape of a betrothed or unmarried girl; the prohibition against marrying a father’s wife; the Mamzer; and the prohibition against marrying an Ammonite or Moabite are detailed.
4th Aliya: The laws regarding: marriage to Edomites or Egyptians; the sanctity of the army camp; sheltering runaway slaves; prostitution; deducted interest; and keeping vows are commanded.
5th/6th Aliyot: The laws regarding: workers eating while they harvest;divorce and remarriage; military exemptions for a new husband; taking a millstone as security for a loan; the punishment for kidnapping; leprosy; general laws regarding security for loans, are detailed.
7th Aliya: The laws regarding paying wages on time; the testimony of close relatives; concern for the widowed and orphaned; forgotten sheaves of grain; leftover fruit from the harvest;– flogging; the childless sister-in- law; the assailant and the wife who comes to the rescue; honest weights and measures; and remembering Amalek are commanded.