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Parshas Ki Teitzei (5777)

Take My Son, Please!

There once was a kid named Ben Soreir who always did his own thing. You know, the real rebellious type who doesn't give a #@$% about anybody.

Some would say it started when Ben came into the world. Everyone present at his Bris (circumcision) noticed his spiked hairdo, and how he refused to cry even as the Mohel came at him with that scary-looking knife. At five, he was already spelling out dirty words with his Alpha-Bits cereal. At seven, Ben had been caught carving snake tattoos into his sister's Barbie doll. And at age ten, he and a couple of his “tough-guy” friends would spend whole Sundays down in the basement, listening to Grateful Dead records .... backwards!!!!

And it only got worse when Ben grew older, into his teens. When his parents would tell him to turn off the T.V. at night and go to bed, Ben would just laugh at them or tell them to shut up, and he would stay up till two, three in the morning. While all of Ben's siblings chipped in to do their share in the family's chores, Ben would just run off on his motor scooter to hang out with the kids smoking pot in the rear parking lot behind the gas station.

To say that Ben wore earrings would be an understatement. Why, he had so much metal piercing his thirteen-year-old body, that when he walked outside, every satellite dish would jam for miles around! And Ben's pants - he would never let his Mom pick out his wardrobe, Heaven forbid - they were so baggy, you could fit half the eighth grade in there!

Oh, and speaking of school, all the teachers were really upset with Ben's horrid behavior - especially after he broke into the teacher's lounge and made off with about $400 which he probably spent on beer and some Ecstasy at one of the "raves" his buddies used to frequent. Not to mention the time he floored the school principal, Mrs. Beth Din, after she yelled at him for shooting out the windows of her "Beamer" with a little handgun he had found in his parents' closet.

Well, to make a long and difficult story short (but probably more difficult), Ben's parents, Jack and Shirley Soreir - who by now were at their wit's end after spending all their time at those tired P.T.A. meetings (Parents with Troubles Anonymous) - did what every other responsible parent might do with a kid like Ben who was sure to end up on drugs and booze, and probably on Death Row (for all they knew!). They called the cops late one night while Ben was sleeping, and had him handcuffed and brought to the local police station. They requested of the Sergeant that he lock up their stubborn and rebellious teenager for the rest of his life with all the hardened criminals, so that he never becomes a menace to society.

And as little, tough Ben Soreir was being led away, wearing a defiant grin on his face, his parents didn't even wave goodbye, but just turned around and went home.

THE TRUE STORY THAT NEVER HAPPENED

Wow! … What a story!

Now, I ask you .... is this a true story? Did this story actually take place? Can this story ever take place?! As bad and rebellious as a kid can get at thirteen years old, no parent I know would ever lock up their kid for life at that age (although the thought is guaranteed to have crossed their minds quite often!).

Yet in this week's Torah portion, we find just such a story about a really monstrous teenager – whom the Torah calls a Ben Soreir u’Moreh (a “stubborn and rebellious child”) – and who gives his parents such hell, that they actually take him to the High Court not to be locked up, but to be executed by the court (!) so that he leaves this world (relatively) innocent, instead of ending up a druggie/serial killer and a menace to society sometime later in life. (No, I am not making this up .... see it for yourselves in Deuteronomy 18:18-21; pages 1046-1049 in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash.)

How are we to understand this Torah passage? Are we to believe that parents would actually take up the Torah's advice and have their son killed if he acts like a monster during his teenage years!

Can you imagine a Jewish mother sending her son to the High Court to be put to death? …. "Here, Harold, I want you should take along these cookies I baked for you. And don't forget to wear your sweater, it gets cold in the death chamber."

The truth is, as the Talmud tells us in Tractate Sanhedrin 71a, that there never was and never will be a capital case involving such a son. Aside from the practical impossibility of any parents handing over their son to be removed from society no matter how bad he may be, so many detailed requirements and conditions are derived exegetically from the passage in the Torah that it is virtually impossible for such a case ever to occur.

For example, the Sages derive from the verse in which the parents say, "he does not hearken to our voice" (verse 20 ibid.), that in order for the entire procedure to be carried out, the parents must have identical voices! Now we know that this is virtually impossible. (Well, maybe a little hormone therapy would do the trick!).

So, what then is the point of the Torah mentioning the whole rebellious son story if it is a practical impossibility?

THE TORAH: LESSONS FOR REAL LIFE

The Talmud (ibid) explains that the main reason for this story and for the many other ideas and commandments mentioned in the Torah - some of which might not apply nowadays and others which have never happened and won’t ever happen – is so that we study and analyze them, and learn from them important lessons - lessons that can have a tremendous impact on the way we think and lead our lives.

Take the stubborn and rebellious son (please!), for example. The Bible commentators explain that the passage must be understood as an implied primer for parents on how to inculcate morals and values into their children. So that the Sages' interpretation that the boy's mother and father have ‘similar voices’ is meant to teach that they should not contradict one another in what they expect of themselves and their child, for consistency is basic to success in child-rearing.

And there are many other powerful lessons that we can learn from a deeper analysis of this strange tale of the rebellious son and his very ‘mean’ parents … and from every other mitzvah or story in the Torah.

It just takes our setting aside some time each week to read the Torah portion and some of the commentaries ... and we will find a virtual goldmine of invaluable advice and lessons from G-d's own wisdom that can help make our lives more meaningful and fulfilling.

JAM-PACKED, ADVENTURE-FILLED WEEKLY TORAH PORTION!

There is probably no better time to start making a habit of reading through the weekly Torah portion than this week - Parshas Ki Seitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10 through Chapter 25; pages 1046-1067 in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash). There is so much going on in the Torah portion that you just won't want to put the Book down!

Topics in this week's portion include: Women Captives, The Rebellious Son, Hanging and Burial, Returning Lost Articles, Transvestitism, The Bird's Nest, Guard-Rails, Mixed Agriculture, Forbidden Combinations, Defamed Wife, Penalty for Adultery, Betrothed Maiden, Rape, Unmarried Girl, Mutilated Genitals, Mamzer (Illegitimate Child), Ammonites & Moabites, Edomites & Egyptians, The Army Camp, Sheltering Slaves, Prostitution, Deducted Interest, Divorce and Remarriage, New Bridegroom, Kidnapping, Leprosy, Security for Loans, Paying Wages on Time, Testimony of Close Relatives, Widows and Orphans, Forgotten Sheaves, Leftover Fruit, Flogging, The Childless Brother-in-Law, Weights and Measures, Remembering What Amalek Did to Us … and that's just a partial list!!

So I recommend that you go on Amazon and get yourself a Torah with a good English translation (I like the Artscroll Chumash, as you might have guessed) and with some really insightful commentary - the kind of commentary that shows how these seemingly strange and out-of-touch stories and commandments in the Torah talk to us here today in 21st century North America and have life-impacting messages for us from our Father in Heaven – and plop yourself down on the couch with the rest of the family this Friday night after the challah and chicken soup (or whenever else you have a little time to spare) and read away!

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