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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Ki Seitzei

When you will go out to war...and you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form, and you will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife. (21:10,11)

The Torah offers a release for the Jewish soldier who is far away from his home and under the strain of battle. It provides a contingency for the soldier who, in constant fear for his life, gives in to an uncontrollable desire for a beautiful captive. The soldier may marry her after she has undergone a specific process. Knowing that she will be permitted to him later may encourage him to refrain from any inappropriate advances now. While this is a special dispensation, it still should be regarded as inappropriate and even sinful. Indeed, Chazal attribute the character of the rebellious son to a union with a yefas toar, beautiful captive, in which the Jewish soldier gave in to his base desires and made use of the Torah's dispensation. If Chazal view this action as sinful, undoubtedly it requires teshuvah, repentance.

Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, derives this idea from an apparent contradiction in Chazal. We are taught that Reuven is considered to be the first one to have made an "official" teshuvah. Indeed, in this merit, his descendant, Hoshea was the one to admonish Klal Yisrael with the words, "Shuvah Yisrael," "Repent Yisrael." He led Klal Yisrael in teshuvah. The fact that Reuven was the first to repent seems inconsistent with another Midrash that attributes this status to Kayin. Kayin told his father Adam Ha'Rishon, "I repented and came to terms with the Almighty". Immediately, Adam responded, "This is the awesome power of teshuvah, and I was never aware of it." How are we to reconcile these two disparate Midrashim?

Horav Schlesinger explains that Kayin repented for a sin that any human being would realize is evil. Murder is a serious crime which demands an enormous amount of teshuvah. The human conscience is such that a murderer expresses contrition as a natural reaction to the most horrendous act possible. Such a response is not a free-will action; rather, it is an automatic human response. In contrast, Reuven acted in a manner that did not really reflect evil. He easily could have justified his actions as the expression of a son jealous for his mother's sake. It was a sin - but of a nature that most people would never recognize as a sin - and certainly would not condemn. Yet Reuven realized his error, and he proceeded to perform teshuvah. This was a truly remarkable act. He was the first person to repent for an aveirah that many might even have mistaken for a mitzvah. That response represents the highest level of teshuvah - and Reuven was the first to come to this understanding.

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

Thus, one of the saddest situations in halachah begins. Parents attempt to raise a child, hoping that they are doing the "right job." Unfortunately, this boy exhibts behavior for which the death penalty is imposed upon him. While this boy has not done anything yet that would warrant execution, Chazal say, "Let him die while he is innocent, and let him not die when he eventually becomes guilty of a capitol crime." Halachah imposes so many requirements before a boy may be deemed a ben sorer u'moreh that it is virtually impossible for it to occur. Chazal have, therefore, inferred that the laws of ben sorer exist as lessons in child-rearing for parents. Regrettably, the parents who need these lessons the most fail to make the inference.

Chazal's statement that the Torah delved into the mind of the ben sorer and saw his eventual outcome implies a powerful lesson. Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, derives from here that evil tendencies which manifest themselves early in a person's life can have a tragic effect over time. They grow with the person until they change the individual into an evil person. These traits must be addressed at the beginning of the young man's life.

The commentators wonder why the ben sorer's punishment is more stringent than that of the rotzeach, murderer. After all, the reason we execute the ben sorer is that his overwhelming lust to satisfy his physical desires will one day drive him to murder someone. If that is the case, his punishment should be equal to that of the murderer, but certainly not more! Horav Kotler explains that the Torah does not judge the murderer for the act of murder that he has perpetrated. He is not sentenced for individual or multiple murders which he has performed. The Torah assesses the ben sorer on the basis of what he will turn out to be. He will become a murderer who will commit violent crimes to satisfy his needs. When we judge the person, his nature and character, the punishment is much more severe than when we judge the specific act of violence which he has committed.

Regarding the ben sorer's future, we find the Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin 8:7, states, "Hashem gazed at the 'end' of this rebellious boy. To satisfy his lust, he would steal from people and even murder if anyone stood in his way. Ultimately, he will forget his Torah learning." Chazal have traced the ben sorer's increasingly destructive behavior, beginning with stealing from his parents. He continues his invidious behavior by stealing from others, to murder, -- ultimately to a total severance from his Torah learning. The sequence of events leading to his total spiritual extinction seems inconsistent. First, he abuses and steals from people; then he murders to satisfy his needs, and then -- the pinnacle of evil, the nadir of depravity - he forgets his Torah learning! This idea begs elucidation.

Horav Kotler explains that, indeed, his downfall begins with a simple distancing from Torah, a complacent attitude, an inappropriate perspective. His demeanor progresses downward until -- finally -- he forgets his learning. During this transition from bad to worse, the ben sorer's behavior also disintegrates. Nothing protects him from downfall, since he has begun to reject the Torah. As long as he had been exposed to Torah learning, as long as the Torah played a role in his life, hope reigned that "hamaor shebah machaziro lemutav," its spiritual light would bring him back to the correct path. Yes, his rejection of Torah symbolizes the end of his rope; nothing can protect him from the clutches of the yetzer hora, evil inclination. He is destined for doom without hope for recovery.

A person's spiritual status is determined by his Torah involvement. Once his dedication to Torah wanes, he is vulnerable to moral depravation with no safeguard to rescue him. Is it any wonder that the ben sorer has nowhere to go but down?

This son of ours is disobedient and rebellious; he does not listen to our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.

The Torah deems the ben sorer u'moreh to be incorrigible. Consequently, he is put to death for his intractable behavior. What has he done that is so bad, that it is considered to be incorrigible? In his initimable style, Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, analyzes the laws of ben sorer u'moreh as a primer for parents to learn valuable lessons in child-rearing. He defines "sorer" as turning away, implying a persistent straying from the prescribed path he is to follow. "Moreh," on the other hand, is a stronger, more aggressive term which implies a self-willed personality. An individual with this personality trait not only fails to do the right thing, but he persists in doing precisely that which he knows to be wrong.

Horav Hirsch cites the Sifri which defines moreh as being in open confrontation - as a matter of principle. The Sifri reinforces this thought with the notion that he responds to his father with passive disobedience, simply ignoring his requests. On the other hand, he reacts to his mother with blatant hositility. Likewise, he ignores the Torah, but reacts violently -- with open defiance -- to its spokesmen and disseminators. Interestingly, we note the divergent parenting roles attributed to the father and mother. The father is compared to the Torah, setting down the general guidelines of right and wrong. The mother is like the "dayanim" judges/teachers who adjudicate, teach and disseminate the law. After all, the mother performs the most important function, the basis upon which all ensuing learning rests, the practical daily training of the child.

The ben sorer u'moreh is pruposely perverse and obstinate. Specifically at a time in a young man's life when he is to be maturing, developing a sense of seriousness, he is deliberately disobedient. Any other type of disobedience against Hashem or his parents at this time of his life -- or even this type of disobedience at any other period in his life -- would not comprise an indelible sign that he is beyond hope. Such rebelliousness as evidenced by zolel v'soveh, a glutton and a drunkard, ocuring at a time when a young man should be cultivating moral posture, apparently indicates that any further efforts to reach out to this youth would only be futile.

A zolel is a full-blown glutton, so greedy that his desire for good food transcends any moral considerations. The zolel is an obvious drunkard. He personifies the worst kind of moral degradation. In order to be liable for the death penalty, the crime - itself and the manner in which it is committed - must manifest a total deficiency of the morality that ought to be inherent in a human being. His sense of human dignity should make him feel disgusted at the thought of gluttony. Thus, the death penalty is instituted only for gluttony unrelated to any kind of religious observance prohibition. There can be no extenuating circumstances, no external justification for his animalistic actions. If he ate treifah food, we can assert that his perversion led him to openly defy the kashrus laws and flaunt his newly-found progressiveness. Indeed, we see here that the son must indulge in gluttony in such a manner that his disobedience is directed only against his parents - not against Hashem. Moral depravity seems to be measured by rebellion particularly against parents, more so than against parents and Hashem.

As Horav Hirsch notes, the paradox of the ben sorer law finds a striking resemblance in "contemporary" society. (We must keep in mind that Horav Hirsch lived over one hundred and fifty years ago.) How often do we find people who would do anything for their parents, except obey Hashem? Children today would spend their last penny to provide for their parents. Yet, some of these same children have no compunction about selling their parents' happiness for the few dollars they will make by working on Shabbos. The thought of the grief they cause their parents has no effect upon their lifestyle.

While such discrepancy in honoring one's parents may be enigmatic, is it any different than the previously discussed law of ben sorer? The law of ben sorer regards a willful act of disobedience against parents alone as a more serious crime than an act of disrespect towards parents that also defies the will of Hashem. Does that mean that our age is producing an attitude that is consistent with the ben sorer law?

Horav Hirsch attributes this moral degeneration to a moral hypocrisy in the home. Children who have more respect for their parents than they have for the Almighty must sense a lack of sincerity in their parents' voice when they ask them to carry out Hashem's command. This lack of earnestness translates itself into a serious double standard, of which the parent is unaware. Children are astute. They are able to read between the lines to perceive their parents' true inclination. Children are distressed when they are able to distinguish between the mood in which their parents asked them to do their personal bidding and that in which their parents asked them to perform Hashem's will. When we make Hashem's will our own, then our children will make His will - theirs.

You shall surely take away the mother and take the young for yourself. (22:7)

The mitzvah of Shiluach Ha'kein implies many lessons. The Rambam suggests that this mitzvah teaches us to demonstrate kindness and consideration to animals. If our search for food requires us to kill an animal, we must do it in the most humane and painless manner. The halachah distinguishes between a bird that is presently resting on her nest, protecting her young, and one that was sent away. We are forbidden to touch the mother that rests on her young. Horav Chaim Ehrentrau, zl, cites the Rambam as the basis for understanding this law. We are not permitted to take advantage of the mother bird who, because she is protecting her young, will not leave. We are not to make use of our superiority over animals to take undue advantage of her. The mother could have left and saved herself. Instead, she chose to remain to guard her young; she deferred to her natural maternal instincts, which to a certain extent she shares with man. Halachah takes this into consideration and grants her life.

We derive from this mitzvah the overwhelming importance to be considerate of others: those weaker than we are; those poorer than we are; or those who are just different than we are. If the Torah cares about a bird who is responding to her natural instinct, how much more so is it important that we be attentive to the needs of our fellow man. The Torah is not merely teaching us to show pity to animals. Hashem does not need us to protect His creatures. Rather, He wishes to imbue us with a refinement of character and a sensitivity to all mankind. Is that not exactly what a Jew is supposed to be like?


1. Was it permitted to take captives in the war with the seven nations that occupied Eretz Yisrael?

2. What type of forbidden union will produce a mamzer, illegitimate child?

3. What rule may be derived from the fact that eventually we may accept converts from Egyptian origin, but never from Moav?

4. After one has received malkus, does his Jewish status change?

5. If a woman's yavam, brother-in-law, is born after her husband has died, is there a din of yibum?

6. Why is the admonition to "remember Amalek" juxtaposed upon the parsha of weights and measures?


1.No. It is only permitted during a milchemes reshus, discretionary war.

2. If the punishment for the union is either kares, Heavenly incision, or capitol punishment carried out through Bais Din.

3. One who causes someone to sin is worse than one who kills him. While the Egyptians persecuted and killed the Jews, Moav caused us to sin against Hashem.

4. No. The Torah refers to one who has already been punished as achichah, your brother.

5. No. Only if he had been alive during his dead brother's lifetime.

6. If we cheat on our weights and measures, we need to worry about being attacked.

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