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rebellious son

As the Talmud itself says, the episode of the rebellious son never happened. So why did God include it in the Torah? 

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

The Torah portion of “Ki Teitzei” (Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19) is packed – with mitzvot (commandments) and procedures. One of these is the episode of “the rebellious son.”

Let’s take a look at the relevant verse: “If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother . . . and he is a glutton and a drunkard.”

The Talmud expands on this mysterious status of a “rebellious son” and explains it to be referring to a boy, between 13 years of age and 13 and three months, who steals money from his parents, uses the money to buy meat and wine, and eats the meat and wine together in a gluttonous manner with the meat being somewhat raw. Furthermore, the entire order of events must be seen by two witnesses who give warnings throughout the entire ideal. There are other details and requirements that must be met as well.

The punishment for the first offense is lashes and for the second offense, death.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Highly unlikely that this would ever happen, right? Of course, right. As the Talmud itself says, the episode of the rebellious son never happened, and in fact, all the requirements that would lead the boy to be put to death would statistically and in all probability never come about.

So if it was never meant to happen, why did God include it in the Torah?

One reason is simply so that we can get reward for studying it. Indeed, the act of Torah study is so tremendous that we get reward for studying any aspect of the Torah even if it is irrelevant to our personal lives and even if we don’t fully understand it. Merely toiling in Torah is meritorious in its own right. Whether it is the practical laws of Shabbat or the theoretical laws of the rebellious son…it’s all Torah, and all study is worthy of reward.

Another answer is that the episode of the rebellious son is simply to give us an example of unacceptable teenage behavior. We cannot tolerate our teenage child stealing and pigging out. If we see such bad habits beginning to form, we need to nip them in the bud. Such teenage delinquency, if not properly dealt with, can lead to a much more serious lifestyle issues in adulthood.

Indeed, the Talmud says that the harsh punishment of death is not for the crime of theft or guzzling down some wine, but because such behavior is certain to progress to the point where he might even murder one day in order to satisfy his desires.

Although the “rebellious son” is, thankfully, irrelevant, and was not and never will be implemented, there are a number of aspects of the procedure that we can learn from and adopt into our lives. Let’s take the misuse of alcohol. Recall that one of the transgressions of the rebellious son (at 13 years old no less!) is the irresponsible guzzling of wine. Clearly, the 4,000-year-old Torah is giving us a message that kids and alcohol should not mix.

Let us be aware of some of the negative aspects of the rebellious son and use them to better our own lives and families. Alcohol and teenagers must not be allowed to mix. The Torah tells us that the results can be disastrous. Do your part to ensure that your children are healthy and wholesome and growing up in a positive atmosphere.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.








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