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by Rabbi David Zauderer    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

There once was a kid named Ben Soreir who always did his own thing — you know, the real rebellious type that doesn’t care about anybody. Some would say it started the day Ben came into this world.



There once was a kid named Ben Soreir who always did his own thing — you know, the real rebellious type that doesn’t care about anybody. Some would say it started the day Ben came into this world. Everyone present at his brit milah (circumcision) noticed his spiked hairdo, and how he refused to cry after the mohel came at him with that scary-looking knife. At five, he was already spelling out dirty words in his Alpha-Bits cereal. At seven, Ben had carved snake tattoos into his sister’s Barbie doll. And at ten, he and a couple of friends used to spend entire 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 TV at night and go to bed, Ben would just laugh at them, and he would stay up till two or 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 who liked to cause trouble.

To say Ben wore earrings is an understatement. Why, he had so much metal piercing in 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 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 stole $200. Not to mention the all the times he got sent to the office of the principal, Mrs. Beth Din.

Well, to make a long and difficult story short (but probably more difficult), Ben’s parents — who by now were at wit’s end after spending all their time and money at those tired PTA meetings (Parents with Troubles Anonymous) — did what every other responsible parent might do with a kid like Ben who is sure to end up causing more trouble. Jack and Shirley Soreir 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 officer that he lock up their stubborn and rebellious teenager for the rest of his life with all the hardened criminals, so that he never become 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.

Wow! What a story! Now, I ask you — is this a true story? Did this story really 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 (although the thought is guaranteed to have crossed their minds quite often).

Yet in this week’s Torah portion, we read of just such a story about a really monstrous teenager, who gives his parents such trouble, that they actually take him to the High Court not to be locked up, but to be executed by the court so that he leave this world (relatively) innocent. (I am not making this up. See for yourselves in Deuteronomy 18:18-21.)

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 in his teens! Can you imagine a Jewish mother sending her son to the High Court to be punished: "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, 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" (ibid. 18:20), 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?

The main reason for this story and many other ideas and commandments mentioned in the Torah — some of which might not apply nowadays — is for us to study and analyze them, and to take from them important lessons. These lessons can have a tremendous impact on the way we think and lead our lives.

Take the rebellious son, for example. The commentaries explain that the passage must be understood as an implied primer for parents on how to inculcate values into their children. So that the sages’ exegesis that the boy’s mother and father have similar voices is interpreted to teach that they do 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 lessons which we can learn from a deeper analysis of this really strange tale of the rebellious son and his very mean parents.

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 gold mine of invaluable advice and lessons from G-d’s own wisdom which can help make our lives more meaningful and fulfilling.

And there is no better time to start making a habit of reading through the weekly Torah portion than this week. There is so much going on in this week’s 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, the defamed wife, penalty for adultery, the betrothed maiden, rape, the unmarried girl, mutilated genitals, mamzer, Ammonites and Moabites, Edomites and Egyptians, the army camp, sheltering slaves, prostitution, deducted interest, divorce and remarriage, the 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 get yourself a readable Torah with some really good 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 the 21st century and have life-impacting messages for us from our Father in heaven. Plop yourself down on the couch with the rest of the family this Friday night after the challah and chicken soup and read away.


Rabbi David Zauderer, a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel, writes from Atlanta.

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