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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son. (21:18)

The incident of the ben sorer u'moreh, wayward and rebellious son, is one of the most serious tragedies related in the Torah. A boy who rejects his parents and everything they have taught him, a boy who rejects everything his parents stand for, truly represents a tragedy of unparalleled proportion. Being a Jewish parent is an awesome responsibility. Parents are the link between the Jewish generations that precede us and those who will follow in the future. Ours is the privilege to maintain the faith of the past, to give meaning and value to the present, and to ensure that there will be a future. Surely the parents of the ben sorer tried everything in their quest to raise their son. They were present for him at home and at school - unlike those parents who simply drop off their child at school and expect their responsibilities to their child to be carried out by the school. Although it is true that good schools teach, instruct, guide and even inspire, their mission succeeds only with the support of the parents. Regrettably, there are too many Jewish "orphans" who are dropped off at school, while the parents wait for the finished product.

No, our ben sorer's parents cared about him. In fact, they did everything to help him "make it". Sometimes, however, everything is just not enough! We never stop loving our children regardless of what they do - and we never should. The heartache and agony which a parent sustains when his child rebels is immeasurable - or, at least, it should be. Some parents are stronger than others and continue trying, hoping, long after the average person would have given up. The following letter is about one such parent who was fortunate enough to see his everlasting love make a difference. The son who had "gone off" writes about his transformation and return - all because his father refused to give up on him.

"Until a few years ago, I did not take anything seriously. I was not like the rest of my class. Having graduated from yeshivah high school, I was undecided what to do. I was neither interested in continuing my Jewish education nor was I ready to begin college right away. I thought I would just drift around for a while and then get a job.

My parents were obviously not very pleased with my decision, but, at that point, what my parents wanted did not carry much weight in my life. Regrettably, during this time, I fell in with a group of like-minded fellows who were not Orthodox. At first, I figured that they would not influence me, but I was dead wrong. It did not take long before I became like them: no interest in Judaism. Shabbos and kashrus were something of the past. Indeed, my entire life became a haze: no direction, no meaning, no value.

"My parents were devastated. While they did not expect me to become a rabbi, they certainly did not expect this. As well as having destroyed my life, I was on the way to destroying my family as well. It got to the point that, due to the adverse influence I was having on my younger siblings, my father asked me to leave the house. When I moved out, I said some cruel and vicious things to my father. I can remember him standing silently by the door, with my mother crying at his side.

"Looking back, I realize that what I thought I saw in them as a weakness was actually incredible strength of character. A year went by, and I had no contact with anyone in my family. I missed them very much, but I was afraid that if I contacted them, it would be viewed as a weakness on my part.

"One morning, I was shocked to find my father standing outside the door to my apartment building. He looked at me with tired, worn eyes and asked if we could talk. I was stubborn and obnoxious. I only nodded. We walked to a corner coffee shop where we sat down to talk. My father opened up. He said that everyone missed me and that, despite my absence, I had been on their hearts and minds every moment that I was gone. I saw the hurt in his eyes - eyes that had long ago stopped crying - because there were no more tears. He told me how my mother agonized over what had happened, blaming herself for not having been there for me. Why did he come? He came because he had one last request - no lecture, just one last favor. He wanted me to drive with him to Monsey, New York, to recite Tehillim at the grave of a certain tzaddik. I looked at him incredulously, and then he began to cry. Bitter tears streamed down his face as he asked me to please grant him this one request. As far removed as I was from Yiddishkeit, I was still moved by his request.

"I told my father that that day was impossible, because I had plans to go with my friends to Atlantic City that night. I would go with him another time. He reached across the table and took my hand in his, looking at me with his tear-streaked sad face. He said nothing - just stared and wept. I felt my own eyes begin to water, and - rather than have him see me cry - I just agreed to meet him later on that day.

"I made the necessary apologies to my friends. Atlantic City would have to wait. Later that day, I drove with my father up to the cemetery in Monsey. We did not talk much during the trip. I remember getting out of the car with my father and walking over to one of the graves. He placed some rocks on top of the grave and gave me a Tehillim. Anybody who walked by would have seen a bizarre sight: my father - standing there in his long black frock, a black hat perched on his head; and me - with my leather bomber jacket and jeans. We did not stay long. Ten minutes is all it took, and soon we were on our way back. We talked as much on the return trip as on the way in - very little.

"My father dropped me off and walked me to my apartment building. I will never forget the words he told me that day. He said that regardless of what had occurred between us, and no matter what might happen in the future, I was always going to be his son, and he would always love me. I was emotionally moved by his words, but I did not manifest the spiritual inspiration that he hoped would occur that day. I shook my head at his words, and we parted company.

"The next morning, I woke up to some shocking news. On their return trip from Atlantic City, my friends were involved in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer rig. They did not survive the accident. Had I not gone with my father that day, I would have been in that car.

"As I write this letter, I am overwhelmed with emotion. I made a Bris for my bechor, firstborn, today. My father was sandek, and as he held my son on his lap, our eyes met, and we smiled. It was as if we had finally reached the end of a long arduous journey.

"We have never talked about that trip to the cemetery, nor did I ever tell my father about my friends' untimely death. I just walked into their home that evening and was welcomed with open arms. No questions asked, no accusations, no answers. I just know that, sitting here late at night with my son in my arms, I will try to be the father to him that my father was to me."

If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son. (21:18)

The law regarding the ben sorer u'moreh, wayward and rebellious son, is a difficult one to understand. Just because the boy ate a sizeable amount of meat and drank the required measure of wine, does that make him guilty of a capital punishment? He is punished, however, because of what he will eventually do. Let him therefore be put to death now before he commits a serious crime. This is not a law that can be adjudicated by Bais Din, the earthly court system. The law of the ben sorer is from Hashem, who knows what this boy's future will bring.

The law, however, does not seem consistent with what the Torah teaches us concerning Yishmael. He was in the desert, suffering and in pain, and Hashem sustained him Ba'asher hu sham, according to what he is now. So what if his descendants had refused to give us water? So what if we have suffered for years from the Arabs? Now is what counts, and now Yishmael is nothing more than a child. Why is he different than the rebellious son who is judged in accordance with what he will become?

Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, distinguishes between Yishmael's yichus, pedigree, and that of the ben sorer. The rebellious son is the end product of a union between a Jewish soldier who deferred to his yetzer hora, evil-inclination, and a yefas toar, beautiful captive. It was a marriage that was allowed only because of a special Scriptural dispensation. It was doomed from its very genesis. The ben sorer u'more is clear proof. Such a child has within him very little future to which to look forward. Therefore, he is judged according to his future. Yishmael, on the other hand, as the son of Avraham Avinu, had his roots in the foundation stone of Klal Yisrael. Indeed, he repented before his death. He was, thus, judged according to his present circumstance. Apparently, when we judge a person, we must take everything into account, because every factor plays a defining role in determining the outcome of a person.

If a man marries a woman… and it will be that she will not find favor in his eyes, for he found in her a matter of immorality, and he wrote her a bill of divorce. (24:1)

According to the flow of the text, it is implied that she lost favor in his eyes and, therefore, he divorces her. Rashi adds that he should divorce her because of her immoral conduct. Even if he does not have witnesses to prove his allegations to the satisfaction of the court, the fact that she is guilty of immoral conduct should be reason enough for her to lose favor in his eyes. Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, derives an important lesson from Rashi. We are under the impression that "favor" is not dependent upon a person's moral posture. If he is a nice person, regardless of his moral behavior, he should be well-liked. Thus, he would have to divorce his wife, even though he still cares for her, because the Torah says so. The Torah teaches us otherwise. One should abhor a person who is immoral. They should be despicable in our eyes. If a person discovers an ervas davar, a matter of immorality, about his wife - there is no longer any room - or place - for love. She no longer has chein, favor, in his eyes, because she has sinned against Hashem. She has disgraced the institution of marriage with her immoral conduct. Divorce should not be the result of the Torah's demand, but rather, the result of the loss of favor in his eyes. Hence, the sequence of events is: immorality, lack of favor, divorce. One who is evil to Hashem neither deserves nor warrants our respect or admiration.

This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard. (21:20)

The ben sorer u'moreh, rebellious son, does not listen to his parents. Clearly, this is a reason to bring him to Bais Din. He is also a glutton and a drunkard. While this is certainly not complimentary, is it a reason to be put to death at such a young age? Horav Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, cites Horav Nochum Zev, zl, m'Kelm who commented on Rav's statement in the Talmud Berachos 17a. Chazal say, Maryela b'pumei d'Rav, "It was a familiar lesson in the mouth of Rav. The World to Come is not like this world. In the World to Come there is no eating, no drinking, no propagation, no business, no jealousy, no hatred and no rivalry. Rather, the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads and delight in the radiance of the Divine Presence." A very impressive statement. Olam Habah is utopia, but why was it necessary for Rav to constantly reiterate this idea? Was there something to be gained by this repetition?

Rav Nachum Zev applied the following analogy in explaining Rav's familiarization with the difference between this world and Olam Habah. "I earn my livelihood in the field of commerce," said Rav Nachum Zev. "My business demands that I attend the market in Leibzig and Danzig (Germany) twice a year. Since I must interact with German merchants, it is essential that I be well-versed in the German language. While it is important I am fluent in the language, it is not necessary for me to be proficient in every nuance of its grammar. I have to be able to converse - I do not have to write a thesis. The reason for this is simple. My entire life revolves around the town of Kelm. I speak its language: I know its people. Two weeks out of the year I have to be in Germany. For that, I have to know the German language, but I do not have to be versed in its grammar.

"The same idea applies to the Jew. Our place - the place where our neshamah, soul, and mind belong is in the spiritual world. That is our home; that is where we belong. We must be proficient in the language of the Heavens: tzaddikim sitting in the radiance of the Shechinah. We also descend to this world for a short period of time. During this juncture, it is necessary for us to acclimate to the "language" of this world - eating and drinking and living a somewhat material lifestyle. We do not, however, have to indulge ourselves in its grammar. We do not have to eat and drink as if it were our permanent home. We are only visiting.

"This is why Rav constantly sought to remind himself of the real place that he belonged. He did not want to get too comfortable in this world. He did not want to learn its grammar."

The same idea applies to the ben sorer, explains Rav Ezrachi. He enjoys a lifestyle that is the antithesis of what a Jew should live. He does not merely survive in this world - he thrives here! The language of this world is his lifeblood. Materialism and more materialism symbolize the motto by which he lives. Olam Habah is the farthest thing from him. A Jew must strive to be fluent in the language of Olam Habah, because it is his life.

That he happened upon you on the way. (25:18)

The pasuk seems to be addressing the nation as a whole. Why then does it switch to karcha, "it happened upon you," in the singular? Horav Eliezer Elyakim Schlesinger, Shlita, explains that the Torah is teaching us a fundamental principle. He cites the Brisker Rav, zl, who interprets the pasuk "I quarrel with those who rise up against you!...I regard them as my own enemies." (Tehillim 139:21,22)in which David Hamelech is saying that Hashem's enemies are his personal enemies. Anyone who rebels against Hashem cannot be David Hamelech's friend. Likewise, we are admonished here to view Amalek's evil as a personal affront against each and every Jew. When Amalek cooled the world's status quo of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, when he battled against Hashem, he became each Jew's personal enemy. This, similarly, applies to every person who has the audacity to speak up against Hashem or against those whose function in life it is to disseminate the word of Hashem.


When you will go out to war against your enemies. (21:10)

Man's greatest enemy is his yetzer hora, evil-inclination. The Baal Shem Tov says that one should employ the same tactics in repelling the yetzer hora's effect. In fact, one should learn from the yetzer hora how to wage battle. The very same alacrity, resolution and stoicism that the yetzer hora uses in his battle to entice him to sin can be used against the yetzer hora.


A wayward and rebellious son. (21:18)

Daas Chachomim explains the term sorer u'moreh, as sorer: turns himself away, and moreh: teaches others to follow in his ways.


You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. (22:10)

The Chizkuni explains the rationale behind the mitzvah. An ox chews its cud, while the donkey does not. When the donkey senses the ox chewing its cud, it thinks that the ox is eating while he is not. This will cause the donkey undue anguish. The Gaon m'Vilna was once invited to a meal where the wealthier people had already begun to eat, while the poor guests had to wait. The Gaon questioned why the poor were subject to waiting. The response was the usual, "When the wealthy are finished, the poor guests will be fed." The Gaon's rejoinder was filled with rebuke, "You are transgressing a negative commandment of the Torah, referring to the above mitzvah. If the Torah is sensitive to the feelings of a donkey, certainly it cares about the feelings of a poor man.


When you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d. (25:18)

The Chozeh, zl, m'Lublin would say, "It is possible to be exhausted from fasting and afflicting the body, yet it is still no indication that one truly fears Hashem."

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