Ki yihyeh l’ish ben sorer u’moreh (Devarim 21:18–20)
Parashas Ki Seitzei discusses the laws governing the ben sorer u’moreh — a wayward and rebellious child who eats and drinks ravenously and refuses to heed his parents, and who is punished harshly. Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, notes that in teaching these laws, the Torah repeatedly emphasizes that each action must be done together by the child’s father and mother. Upon recognizing that he refuses to listen to their instructions, they must rebuke him together. If that fails, they must bring him together to the beis din to be judged. There, they must both declare that he has been unwilling to listen to their voices. Why does the Torah repeatedly stress this idea?
The key to answering this question can be found in a story told by Harav Moshe Aharon Stern, zt”l. When he was a young child, his teacher announced that the class would be going on a field trip the following week. Each child was to bring a signed permission slip and money to cover the cost of transportation.
The young Moshe Aharon excitedly ran home to ask his father for permission and money for the trip. Unfortunately, his family lived in dire poverty, struggling to scrape together money for even the barest essentials, and extra funds for a “luxury” such as a class field trip were nowhere to be found. His saddened father had no choice but to turn down his request for money. The young child was undeterred and hatched a plan.
He waited until the day of the trip and deliberately took his time getting dressed and eating breakfast. After his father had left for work, he suddenly “remembered” the trip and asked his more compassionate mother for permission and bus money. His mother, unaware of the scheme, responded that she would have to call his father at work to discuss it with him. His plot about to be discovered, Moshe Aharon revealed the truth.
Decades later, he commented that while he may have missed out on the fun of the class trip, the lesson his mother taught him about the need for parents to work together and present a united front to their children was far more valuable and remained with him for life.
In light of this story, we can now appreciate the answer to our question. In emphasizing the need for the parents to do each action jointly, the Torah is hinting to us that in order for the blame to be placed on the child for failing to hearken to his parents’ words, he must be receiving consistent messages from both of his parents.
If he receives conflicting messages from his father and his mother, he can’t help but be bewildered. The responsibility for his actions is not fully his but lies also with his parents for neglecting to present a unified front. If only one parent wishes to bring him to the court to be judged while the other has mercy on him, he similarly cannot be judged a rebellious child, as his parents’ differing approaches to discipline leave him confused regarding the proper course of action.
This lesson is all the more relevant in our day and age, when children are exposed to powerful and unprecedented external influences. The Torah teaches us that the key to raising healthy, balanced children is for the parents to raise them with clear messages and a united front.
Parashah Q & A
Q: A child is declared a ben sorer u’moreh — wayward and rebellious son — for stealing and gluttonously consuming meat and wine (Rashi 21:18). Although none of these is itself a capital crime, Rashi explains that he is punished and killed today based on his future actions, as such a child will eventually murder to steal money to support his excessive desires. One who murders is put to death by the sword. Even if the child is to be punished today based on his future actions, why is he killed by stoning (21:21), which is an even more severe form of execution than the sword which is used for a person who has actually committed the crime?
Q: The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel renders the prohibition (22:5) against female use of male garments as forbidding a woman to wear tefillin or tzitzis. How can this be reconciled with the Gemara in Eruvin (96a) which relates that Shaul’s daughter Michal wore tefillin with the consent of the Sages?
A: The Chizkuni answers that because he will steal so much to support his habit, he will eventually steal and murder on Shabbos, the desecration of which is punishable by stoning. The Daas Zekeinim notes that one of the allegations against the wayward child is that he refuses to listen to his parents’ instructions and suggests that this disrespect is viewed as a form of cursing one’s parents, which is punishable by stoning. The Maharsha explains that Chazal don’t mean to imply that the example they give — stealing and killing — is the full extent of the depths to which this child will eventually sink. They simply mentioned this as one example of the many grave sins which he will come to commit, including other sins which are punishable by stoning. If so, why did Chazal mention murder? Harav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, zt”l, adds that if it were only for these other sins, we would wait for him to actually commit them and punish him at that time. However, because he will also murder and waiting for him to sin will result in the loss of innocent Jewish lives, we therefore punish him for the other sins now.
A: The Levush explains that the prohibition against wearing clothing of the other gender is to prevent a person from mingling with the opposite gender. Because Michal was the daughter of the king, she was well-known and recognizable to all. Because this would prevent her from being able to mingle with men, she was permitted to wear tefillin. Harav Chaim Kanievsky answers that she was of the opinion that women are also obligated in the mitzvah of tefillin, in which case they aren’t considered a male garment.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.