Messages of the Ben Sorer u’Moreh – Weekly Words of Torah, Ki Tetze 5773

Insights into Parshat Ki Tetze of Rav Moshe Ganz, Ram Emeritus of Yeshivat Sha’alvim, by Rav Re’uven Ungar of Sha’alvim.

“The rebellious son- Ben Sorer u’Moreh- never happened and will never happen. Why is it written in the Torah? To delve into its meaning and to receive reward” (Masechet Sanhedrin, 71a).

This statement requires clarification. Certainly there is no receiving of a reward for something that is not for real. Certainly there must be a principle to be derived from the passage of the Ben Sorer u’Morer, even though it will never transpire in actuality.

What is unique in this passage?

The gemara states that the past of the Ben Sorer u’Moreh does not warrant the punishment that awaits him: “The Ben Sorer u”Moreh is killed because of his future. Does the consumption of a large quantity of meat and Italian wine lead the Torah to instruct the Jewish Court of Law- Beit Din- to have him stoned?! Rather, the Torah understood what will happen, he will deplete the financial resources of his father, seek what he is accustomed to enjoy, not attain it, and proceed to become a highwayman and prey on society. The Torah states that it is preferable for him to die innocent as opposed to guilty” (Masechet Sanhedrin, 72a).

The Maharsha explains that the case of Ben Sorer u”Moreh will never transpire in actuality because although the Torah recognizes that there is no hope for this individual, his parents- who are charged with the responsibility of bringing him to the Beit Din- will not recognize what will happen. They will always think that there is hope for their precious son to revert to the proper path. Nevertheless, the parents can derive from the passage of the Ben Soreh u’Morer that a transgression fosters an additional transgression, as robberies that lead to gluttony have the potential to reach murder. Thus, the parents will learn to be diligent in educating their children, and to be cautious of even a small slip, as they recognize that this may lead to a large fall. If this is derived from this passage- they will receive a great reward.

Another concept should be mentioned. Contemporary human culture focuses on Humanism. Man is the center of everything. An ethical action can be summarized as: “Man is the purpose, not merely a means to reach a goal”. This attitude yields the following result: Frequent improper conduct is forgiven because “it is human”. In other words, the fact that many humans behave this way prevents this action from being classified as negative. This is the source of permissiveness in its various manifestations.

This approach does set limits on permissiveness. It punishes people who harm other people. The justification for punishment lies in the fact that this serves the interests of society. While man is the focal point, nevertheless the good of society trumps his personal welfare. At times, a harsh punishment is called for. However, capital punishment for what may transpire in the future is inconceivable. How can a person be killed for what he has not yet perpetrated? He is a human being!

Our love of humanity is different. It stems from the fact that we view man via the G-dly quality- Tzelem Elokim- in him. When we love a person- even if his actions are improper- it is due to the Tzelem Elokim found within him. This provides the value of the person. It constitutes the basis for hope and possibility that the person can repent and march in the direction of a meaningful life, befitting one bestowed with Tzelem Elokim. Such a life, and the hope and possibility of living such a life, constitute an exalted value. The absence of the possession of such a Tzelem Elokim, and the absence of the hope of possessing such a Tzelem Elokim, would remove the value of such a life- even if the person is blessed with many capabilities.

Of course, this idea does not contain an actual expression in reality. For we are never allowed to determine that all hope is lost of a person repairing his actions. However, on a theoretical level this contains an important educational message. It stresses- in a harsh manner-the responsibility of a person to be good.

This message is conveyed to us by the passage of Ben Sorer u’Moreh. In a theoretical sense we are taught that if there is a situation where there is no hope for a person to improve his ways, and that he will only decline in his misbehavior- reaching banditry and murder- he should be judged to death. Such a verdict would be to his benefit- to die innocent and not guilty. The true value of life is measured by the goodness of the person, not by external values such as material success. The death of the Ben Sorer u’Morer in such a situation protects his true life from the absolute loss of its values.

This passage teaches us what is the true value of our lives and elevates us.