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Parshat Ki Tetze

08/24/2023 04:59:02 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

Can you imagine not listening to your parents? Worse yet, can you imagine publicly disregarding their wishes and rebelling against them? In reality, each of us can probably think of numerous examples of our own rebellions, or our those of our kids.  We certainly must be able to think of all of the times we witnessed a child disregarding his/her parents and/or rebelling. It’s part of childhood to go against your parents and to develop a healthy sense of independence. 

Each year when we read the words of פרשת כי תצא/Ki Tetze, we’re reminded of this reality.

“If a householder has a wayward and defiant son, who does not heed his father or mother and does not obey them even after they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the public place of his community. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is disloyal and defiant; he does not heed us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Thereupon his town’s council shall stone him to death. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst: all Israel will hear and be afraid.”

(Deuteronomy 21:18 – 21)

This text explicitly commands that if one’s child were to rebel, they’re to be taken to the town’s elders and accused, and once found guilty, they’re to be killed. This makes us uncomfortable because it takes a population that by definition isn’t fully cognizant of what it does, and leverages the highest possible punishment on them for a crime each of us could most likely be accused of committing. This makes us uncomfortable because we’re taught from our earliest years to apologize and make things better and this directly contradicts that basic tenet. We’re not alone in our great discomfort. The Talmud in Sanhedrin (47b, 68b, 69a, 70a-b 71a and 107a) goes to great lengths to limit this and its application. To begin, it establishes this only applies to boys and not to girls. It then asserts the boy must demonstrate physical signs of puberty but not of full adulthood (some opinions assert this is a three-month period of time or six-months at the most). Lastly, it disqualifies anyone who has any emotional or developmental issues along with certain physical traits.

The Talmud also explains the system by which this was to be administered. Two parents with a son who meets all these qualifications and has rebelled must take him to a court of three with two non-related witnesses to testify that he rebelled after having been warned. The court, should they find him liable, will administer lashes to “teach” him to not do this again. After this, it’s assumed all returns to normal. However should the son continue to rebel, the parents now need to bring their son to a court of 23 to assert he has not learned his lesson and thus he should be put to death. The only way he can be convicted is if the original judges are part of 23 and he still falls in the three or six-month period where he is liable. All of this is codified by the Rambam in his Mishneh Torah in the seventh chapter of the section called Rebels.

It’s clear our tradition took this explicit command of the Torah and legislated it out of existence because of a lack of comfort and a belief that this isn’t the “justice” by which God wants us to live our lives. But there must be something we can learn from its presence in the Torah as it wouldn’t be there without a purpose. Perhaps it’s there to further express the deep importance of honoring one’s parents at all ages. Perhaps God commanded this to us so we would recognize we remain children and that we must love and care for how our parents see the world.

As we approach the High Holidays, we’ll get ready to hear and say the words of Avinu Malkeinu when we’re reminded that the primary paradigm of our relationship with God is that of a parent and child. We are each God’s child and as such we must see that we need to honor, and bring honor to, our Parent, God. To assert that we, humans, have rebelled at God time and again. We’ve forgotten all the majesty with which the world was formed. We’ve disregarded the sanctity of our relationships with God and with other people. We’ve forgotten about our commitments to the Torah and its mitzvot. We’ve rebelled and it’s important to recognize that the Torah sees rebellion as wrong and wants us to come back and return to honor and love our Parent. It’s important to see that fidelity is essential in all we do.

Mon, October 2 2023 17 Tishrei 5784