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Parshas Mishpatim (5773)

Kidnapping Your Kid

Police searching for a missing child heard heavy breathing coming from a parked van. But, when they looked, it was just a kid napping.

Thankfully, real kidnappings are relatively infrequent occurrences, and quite often a “missing” or “abducted” child turns out to be just some kid who fell asleep in a minivan and his parents forgot that he was there.

There is one type of “kidnapping” that happens more often than we think, and it is alluded to in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Mishpatim.

The Torah lists various sins and their corresponding punishments. In chapter 21 verse 15, it teaches: “One who strikes his father or mother shall surely be put to death”.

[The Talmud in Sanhedrin 85b explains that the death penalty is only for one who strikes his parents in a way that causes a bruise, as opposed to ordinary assault which, although forbidden, does not carry so severe a punishment. Also, bear in mind that even if a child were to actually bruise his parent, the death penalty would almost never be implemented by the court for a whole host of reasons, and the primary goal of the Torah in mentioning the death penalty is to teach us the severity of the sin.].

The following verse states: “One who kidnaps a man and sells him, and he was found to have been in his power, shall surely be put to death”. This is the biblical prohibition against kidnapping. Rashi comments that kidnappers are liable to the death penalty only if they forced the victim to work for them and then sold him into slavery.

The verse after that states: “One who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death”. The Talmud teaches that the death penalty is only applied where the child cursed his parents using G-d’s Name.

The obvious question is why the Torah places the sin of kidnapping smack in between the two sins of striking and cursing parents.

The great medieval Bible commentator Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra cites Rav Saadia Gaon who answers that a majority of those who are kidnapped are young children. A child who was abducted could easily grow up not knowing the identity of his parents and therefore could possibly come to strike or curse his parent without knowing it. The kidnapper is therefore liable for punishment for being the cause of the child’s sin against his parents. It is for this reason that the sin of kidnapping is sandwiched in between the sins of cursing or striking one’s parents.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab ZT”L, in his Selected Speeches (CIS Publishers), suggests a different approach. He writes that in these verses we find an allusion to the psychological causes which may make a son or daughter stoop so low as to actually strike or curse their parents after all the good that their parents have done for them in life. And while it is not at all an excuse for the sin they are committing, the Torah here is warning parents not to treat their own children like kidnapped hostages, constantly breathing down their necks, stifling their initiatives, suppressing their youthful plans and aspirations.

Parents who “kidnap” their own kids by trying to force them into being something they are not but that their parents want them to be, might one day trigger an open rebellion with disastrous results.

Yet another answer I saw in the book Direction, written by Rabbi Zadok Shmuel Suchard, quoting his friend Ivan Segal. He writes that when parents divorce and there is acrimony, one parent may “kidnap” a child or even flee with a child, inciting the child against the other parent. Sometimes the child is filled with such venom and hate that he might actually come to curse or strike that parent. The Torah therefore places the verse about kidnapping in between the laws of striking or cursing one’s parents to warn against this.

These two answers share a common theme: We have to be aware of the repercussions of our actions, especially when it comes to our children.

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