May 21, 2024
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Parshat Ki Teitzei speaks of the ben sorer umoreh, the rebellious child. This rebellious child became so caught up in his gluttonous ways that he stopped obeying his parents. He lived only for himself and only for the moment. His parents were to take him to the elders of the town and cast him out. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (71a) discusses this unique phenomenon and all the conditions that would have to be met in order for this story to have been played out as portrayed in the parsha. It concludes that the situation of a ben sorer umoreh never actually occurred and could never occur. If so, what lessons are there to be learned from this depiction in the Torah? Perhaps it makes us pause and think about our role as parents.

The Reishit Chochma writes that it is easier to grow a grove of olive trees on a pile of rocks in the Galilee than it is to raise a single Jewish child properly. In other words, raising children is always a difficult undertaking, even under the best circumstances. Yet there are certain principles to keep in mind, based on the tale of the ben sorer umoreh.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin concluded, based on the verse “…he did not listen to our voice” (21:18), that the voices of the father and mother of this child must be identical. The Gemara lists requirements that the parents must be of the same height, have the same appearance and have voices that sound alike. R’ Zev Leff explained that the Gemara is not necessarily talking about the pitch or tenor of the parents’ voices. Instead, the Gemara is teaching that parents must send a single, unified message to their youngsters. Children do not deal well with mixed messages. The “voice” of the parents must be identical because if the child hears one message from his father and a different message from his mother, he will exploit that. Sometimes this requires that the parents work things out among themselves beforehand. They must come to an agreement regarding what is right, what is wrong, and how they will approach a given situation. Only then can they handle things with a “single voice.”

R’ Dr. Avraham Twerski, a psychiatrist who worked with drug-addicted patients, had another insight based on the tale of the ben sorer umoreh. He believed the Torah was teaching a lesson in—what is today known as—tough love. Too often parents believe they are saving their children and will bail them out of trouble when they behave badly or abuse alcohol and other substances. These parents might provide them with money, make excuses for them, blame the school or literally bail them out of jail when they get arrested. They may let troubled older children stay at home too long and terrorize the rest of the family into giving in to their demands, thinking that it is their parental obligation to do so.

Such parents, however, cannot simply just keep providing the troubled child with money to feed his habit. R’ Twerski related that sometimes the parents have to act in a way that might seem cruel or insensitive to the child. If it means that the child will be arrested for stealing money from others or that he will have to spend time in jail as a result of his crimes, so be it. When the Torah records the incident of the ben sorer umoreh, the rebellious son, it is informing us that “tough love”-style discipline is acceptable and proper.

R’ Frand compares this to taking a sick child to the doctor for an injection or a surgical procedure. Of course the injection or procedure is going to hurt at first, but a greater good is ultimately being achieved, promoting the child’s health. So too, providing discipline to a child and teaching him early on that there are consequences in life might be painful at times. However, by learning the road signs of life early on it may save a child from skidding off the road altogether later on.

May Hashem help us all to raise our children properly. May we learn to speak in a unified voice as parents and provide proper discipline whenever necessary. May our children, in turn, grow to be successful, responsible adults who make us proud and give us Yiddishe nachas.

By Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic clinical psychologist in private practice. He is the president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club on NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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