Living Torah

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

If the laws on punishment of the wayward son were never meant to be implemented, why did the Torah bother including them?

This week’s Torah portion is Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19). As with most of the Torah portions in Deuteronomy, this one is action packed! There are laws on civil and domestic life, inheritance, the wayward son, found property, rooftop safety, kidnapping, prohibited mixtures and much more! Don’t let the Sabbath pass without opening your Bible and taking a look at this week’s Torah reading!

Although there is so much to discuss, this column will focus on the episode of the “wayward son.” This is a very disturbing, uncomfortable mitzvah (commandment), to say the least. The laws of the wayward son apply to a young boy who is gluttonous and a thief. In some situations, such a child must be killed.

Huh?!? Killing a Child who Misbehaves?!?

But there’s good news! For reasons beyond the scope of this column, the Talmud tells us that the laws of the wayward son were never implemented! And so, the question is asked: If the laws and punishment of the wayward son were never meant to be implemented, then why did the Torah bother including them? The answer: In order for us to learn the lessons and messages inherent in such a procedure. The Torah realizes that raising children just isn’t easy.

So let’s get started!

Among the many things we can learn from the fictitious episode of the wayward son are a few tips in parenting. Perhaps we can find some clues as to what NOT to do when raising children. Let’s face it, it is unlikely that a “wayward son” is the product of perfect parents, so perhaps the Torah wants us to ponder some of the mistakes that could produce a wayward son.

For starters, as part of the procedure leading to the condemnation of a child as a “wayward son,” the parents were required to go to court and declare: “Our child is a rebellious child. He does not listen to us [in Hebrew: does not listen to our voice]! He is gluttonous.”

Why is it written that the child does not listen to his parent’s “voice”? Would not “instructions” or even “words” be more suitable?

It is explained that this is precisely the problem with some children. When they fail to see the logic in what their parents tell them, they interpret their words or instructions as mere voices, meaning noise or nonsense. They choose to ignore their parents’ words if they do not make sense to them.

Good Torah Advice: Avoid Mixed Messages

The antidote to this is that we have to try and explain to our children why our decisions and instructions are important. It’s because we want the best for them, of course! Instructions alone are not good enough. They need some “commentary” as well. In our generation, children are not going to obey their parents as they did 100 years ago. Times have changed, and we must adjust to the reality. Try to explain to your children why you parent the way you do.

Another incredibly urgent message to be derived from the wayward son is found in the Talmud, which teaches that parents must not give their children mixed messages! Parents must be on the same page. Children need to hear “our voice” – with “our” referring to both parents! Parents should not contradict one another in front of their children. As parents we must have a “united front.” If parents send mixed messages to their children…disaster is not far away. If you disagree with your spouse on parenting decisions, discuss it in private. Not in front of the children. Never.

Who is Disqualified as a Wayward Son?

Finally, there is a very interesting requirement in the rules and regulations of the wayward son [non-existent] ceremony, and that is that both parents must have their sight. The laws of the wayward son do not apply to parents who are blind. And why is a child whose parents are blind disqualified from being a wayward son?

It is explained that parents who are blind cannot see what their child really needs, nor do they properly monitor the development of their child. In order to properly raise and guide children, we must be able to see them, literally. Therefore, since the child was lacking in what may be called an ideal parenting situation, he can’t be blamed if he “loses his way”.

Let us conclude with the words of the Zohar, the primary work of kabbala, Jewish mysticism. The Zohar teaches that when we appear in Heaven after 120 years in this world, we will be asked: “Did you provide the proper education for your children?” Get this: The Zohar says that if a person can answer that question affirmatively, God immediately admits that person into Heaven. That’s it. No court case, no weighing of sins. If you managed to raise your children properly, you’re in!

See you in Heaven! (I hope!)

Shabbat Shalom!

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