KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH
For easy printing,
IF IT WILL NEVER
HAPPEN, WHY WRITE IT?
Parashat Ki Tetze brings Moshe's recounting of the
Torah's commandments to a glorious climax.
74 separate mitzvot, covering labor and building laws, rules of
warfare, respect for the deceased, responsibility for the property of another,
the stringencies of the sexual morality demanded of the Jew these are but a
sample of the broad scope covered in this section. However, several laws go far beyond the
expected level of responsibility that a person is accountable for his/her
actions and greatly expand the level of responsibility the Torah demands of a
Jew. At the end of the previous
parasha, we encountered the section of the 'eglah arufah' the sacrifice
offered by the city's elders, who claim that they did not shed the blood of an
innocent wayfarer found in proximity to their village. The commentators explain that the Torah
never suspected them of actually killing the traveler; instead, the Torah
equated the passive failure to provide lodging and shelter for the stranger with
the active committing of murder.
In our parasha, we see the scope of
responsibility extended even further.
Having seen that the Torah not only requires us to behave in a proactive
manner, holding people accountable for failing to ensure the wellbeing of
others, the Torah then lists a commandment that holds people accountable not for
their present actions, but for the possibility that those actions foretell
delinquent behavior in he future.
After discussing the law of the beautiful captive and how she is to be
treated, and then how a person married to two wives should behave in
apportioning his property, the Torah describes the treatment and punishment that
is meted out to the stubborn and rebellious son the ben sorer
u-moreh. The parents of this
rebellious child are to bring him to the court, where, upon declaring that "he
is a glutton and a drunkard," the community is to stone him. As loathsome as overeating and excessive
drinking are, they are not capital crimes.
Instead, as the Ramban points out, the son was executed because he was
likely a potential criminal and his death would deter others from following in
The Talmud states that "having
disposed of all of his father's possessions, he will go to the crossroads, lie
in wait, and rob people in order to support his habit." The Ramban lists four
similar cases where a person is condemned to death not due to the severity of
his actions, but to serve as an example to others. In all of these matters, the Torah
states, "and all of Yisrael will hear and they will fear" stressing that the
purpose of applying capital punishment is for the reaction that it will
provoke. The four places where the
Torah declares, "and all of Yisrael will hear and they will fear" include: a)
our section; b) the meisit (instigator) a person who attempts to get
others to worship idols, who is killed even if he is unsuccessful in his efforts
(Devarim 13:7-12); c) eidim zomemim (scheming witnesses),
who tried unsuccessfully to have the courts kill another; and are killed to
dissuade others from testifying falsely (19:15-21), and d) the zaken
mamre (rebellious elder), whose refusal to accept a majority ruling against
his views by the High Court, though not worthy of the death penalty in its own
right, definitely encourages disputes and weakens the judicial bodys standing
among the people (17:8-13).
IS A REBELLIOUS SON?
What does it mean to be a ben sorer
u-moreh? Rashi, based on the
Sifri, states that the son turns away both from the Torah (sorer) and the
words of the prophets (moreh).
The Ibn Ezra provides a more expansive definition. He understands 'sorer' as
rebelling against God, and 'moreh' as rebelling against his parents
(provided they themselves are God-fearing). He then suggests that 'sorer'
refers to the failure to perform the positive commandments, while 'moreh'
implies that he violates the negative ones. Later on, the Ibn Ezra describes him as
a heretic, who is solely involved with seeking the pleasures of this world.
The Abrabanel adds one more dimension
to the severity of the ben sorer u-moreh's actions. While 'sorer' implies that the
son has strayed from the proper path, 'moreh' entails teaching others to
sin. According to this approach, it
is only once the child becomes a negative influence upon others that we consider
his failings to be worthy of capital punishment.
In defining the extent and limitations
of the laws of the ben sorer u-moreh, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a) states
that the child is not considered liable until he has stolen his father's
property in order to acquire a tartimar of meat to eat, and a log
of Italian wine to drink. The
Halakha places further restrictions upon the ben sorer u-moreh so as to
make the application of the law extremely unlikely, if not impossible. The rules only apply with the first
three months after the child has reached halakhic manhood; both parents must be
living and willing to press charges; neither parent can be deaf, lame, nor
missing a limb; they must speak with the same voice and have the same
appearance; the boy must steal the meat and wine from his father's house, yet
consume them elsewhere in the company of worthless individuals, in order for him
to be convicted. According to the
Tosefta Negaim, this law is not in effect in Yerushalayim. (The Meshekh
Chokhma suggests that this is due to the continuous eating of so many sacrifices
and offerings, as well as ma'aser sheni the second tithe within
Jerusalem; consumption within the city, since it is performed for mitzva
purposes, cannot be considered gluttony.)
These are only a few of the numerous restrictions and limitations that
apply before a boy can be judged as a ben sorer u-moreh, ensuring that
the actual application of the law was extremely rare.
Several Talmudic opinions (Sanhedrin
71), having studied the above limitations, conclude that the case of the ben
sorer u-moreh "never occurred and never will occur." According to them, the sole purpose of
having this section in the Torah is to learn the laws and provide a reward for
those who do so. R. Yehuda suggests
that given the stringencies and limitations listed above (according to him, the
mother must be identical to the father in voice, appearance, and height
something that is impossible), the law can never be carried out in
practice. R. Shimon agrees with R. Yehuda that such
a case "never occurred and never will occur." However, he suggests that this is not
because of a limitation in reality, that the husband and wife share the exact
same appearance, but due to its high unlikelihood: "Is it just because he ate a
tartimar of meat and drank a log of Italian wine that his parents
would take him out to the court to be stoned?" In theory, the Torah grants the parents
to carry out the law in all of its severity; but in fact, finding parents who
would willingly offer their child to the authorities, to be convicted on their
own testimonies, would be such a highly unlikely possibility as to be considered
What benefit does the Torah provide by
listing a commandment that in all likelihood will never be implemented? The Kli Yakar suggests that the intended
targets of the Torah are the sons, who would otherwise be tempted to follow
their desires and engage in "harmless" gluttony and drinking. However, in his commentary to R.
Shimon's statement in the Talmud, the Maharsha suggests that the Torah directed
its message not towards the children, but the parents:
According to R. Shimon, it is clear that the Torah
required the death penalty for the rebellious son's actions, for the Torah was
able to penetrate into the son's ultimate fate, as it states later on. However, what R. Shimon is saying is that [while the
Torah understands what this son will eventually become,] his parents cannot
fathom their child's ultimate end, and therefore will pity him and not take him
out to be stoned over the 'mere' eating of a tartimar of meat. Why, then, was this section
written? "To be studied and receive
a reward for doing so" meaning that the parents should study this
section and realize that the Torah could fathom their son's ultimate end, and
that such a son is worthy of being stoned.
For this reason, the Rabbeinu Bachye
states that this parasha resembles the story of akeidat
Yitzchak. Even though this law
was never to be applied (just as God never intended to have Avraham sacrifice
Yitzchak), the message remains the same.
As much as a parent loves a child, when necessary, the parent must
suppress those feelings when it comes in conflict with God's will.