Ki Seitzei – Deaf to Our Very Own Selves

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Seitzei, we are told of the Ben Sorer U’Moreh – the wayward and rebellious son.  This is the boy who does not listen to the voice of his father and to the voice of his mother, and they discipline him, and he does not listen to them.  He is taken by his parents to the elders of the city, and his parents declare, “בְּנֵנוּ זֶה סוֹרֵר וּמֹרֶה–אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ, בְּקֹלֵנוּ; זוֹלֵל, וְסֹבֵא, this son of ours is wayward and rebellious, he does not listen to our voice; he is a glutton and guzzler.”  And all of the men of the city shall stone him and he shall die… And all of Israel shall hear and they shall fear (See Devarim 21:18-21).

The Sages outline very exacting standards, which all must be met, in order to determine if the son has the status of a wayward and rebellious son.  Some of these criterion include: he drinks wine, not liquor or beer.  He must eat raw meat, not cooked meat.  It must be kosher meat and not treif meat.  His age must be three months after the start of puberty. 

Furthermore, what he stole – and from whom – and where he ate what he stole, are to meet exact specifications!  He is not considered a Ben Sorer U’Moreh unless both parents wish to have him punished.  Chazal teach that the mother and father must be identical in voice, appearance, and height (see Sanhedrin 71a). 

The standards are so exacting (the criteria are outlined in seven pages of the eighth chapter of Maseches Sanhedrin) that according to one opinion in the Gemara: בן סורר ומורה לא היה ולא עתיד להיות – the Ben Sorer U’Moreh never was and never will be (ibid)!   Why, then, is it written in the Torah?  Answer Chazal (ibid): דרוש וקבל שכר – so that you may expound upon this section of Torah, and receive reward for the learning. 

Hence, from each of the exacting requirements, and from each word dealing with the Ben Sorer U’Moreh in the Torah, there are lessons to be learned – even though, such a child never was and never will be. 

One of the interesting standards that would invalidate a child from being considered a wayward and rebellious son is that if one of the parents is deaf, the child does not become a Ben Sorer U’Moreh.  This is derived from the pasuk (verse) that states: וְאָמְרוּ אֶל-זִקְנֵי עִירוֹ, בְּנֵנוּ זֶה סוֹרֵר וּמֹרֶה–אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ, בְּקֹלֵנוּ; זוֹלֵל, וְסֹבֵא – and they (the parents) say to the elders of the city: This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not listen to our voice, he is a glutton and guzzler

R’ Yitzchak Zilberstein writes, “This verse, however, is referring to the son listening to the parents, not the other way around!  So how do we derive from this verse that the parents cannot be deaf!?

“The lesson here is that when a person reprimands someone else, his words can have an effect only if he hears what his mouth is saying – i.e., he practices what he preaches.  If he practices what he preaches, it is clear that he is speaking from the heart, and words of that caliber have the ability to enter someone else’s heart.

“If one of the parents is ‘deaf,’ however, and does not listen himself to what he tells his son to do, there is no doubt that the son ‘will not listen’. 

“Indeed, we find in the verse the words וּבִעַרְתָּ הָרָע, מִקִּרְבֶּךָ; וְכָל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, יִשְׁמְעוּ וְיִרָאוּ – and you shall remove the evil from your midst; and all of Israel shall hear and they shall fear.  The Torah is intimating that if you remove the evil from your midst – i.e., from yourself – then when you reprimand others, they shall hear and they shall fear.  But as long as the evil is inside you, and you are not a living example of what you tell others to do, no one will take heed of your words” (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach, Devarim, p.287).

Hence, when the parents themselves are “deaf,” how can the child be expected to “hear” what they say?  Of course he does not listen; as they do not listen to their own words!   Therefore, the child is exonerated from his gluttonous and wayward ways, and is not considered to be a Ben Sorer U’Moreh. 

In regard to the middah (character trait) of consistency in our actions, R’ Mayer Twersky writes, “Consider the example of a father who constantly exhorts his son to learn Torah.  He enrolls him in a yeshiva with little, if any, vacation.  He pushes his son to maximize his time and potential… But if the father does not exert himself in learning or push himself to maximize his own time and potential, then the disparity between his words and actions can easily breed cynicism.  In the son’s mind, talmud Torah becomes associated with his father’s inconsistency… Similarly, it is certainly an instance of [inconsistency] to instruct our children regarding middos: ‘Keep calm.’  ‘Maintain perspective.  Don’t blow things out of proportion.’  ‘Anger is a terrible, destructive emotion.’  But if we fail to keep our composure, maintain perspective, or restrain our anger, we risk breeding cynicism in our children, rachmana litzlan (may the Merciful One save us). 

“Cynicism is especially insidious because it is antithetical to faith.  Faith, while firmly rooted in knowledge, requires a trusting disposition.  Faith involves trusting HaKadosh Baruch Hu.  The distrust which a cynic feels for his fellow man can eventually, rachmana litzlan, engulf even HaKadosh Baruch Hu as well” (Chinuch: Contemporary & Timeless, p.137-138).

R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l used to say, quoting Chazal (Sukkah 56b) “that a child speaks in the marketplace the way he heard his parents speak in their home.  Even before they can speak, children are already absorbing the middos they see in the house.  Someone once asked R’ Yaakov how he and his Rebbetzin taught their children to say brachos.  ‘We never taught them,’ he replied.  ‘They saw us making brachos before and after eating, and because children naturally imitate their parents, they started making brachos too” (Reb Yaakov, Artscroll, p.324).

If we want our children – or for that matter, anyone who we deal with, whether in frequent or infrequent interactions – to listen to the words of our mouths, we would be wise and honest men of integrity if we first listened to our very own selves.

What an apropos message as we journey through the introspective month of Elul, striving to improve our middos, actions and interactions.  We can only hope to influence ourselves, and those around us, for the better, if we hear our own voices, internalize our words, and live lives of consistency in all that we do.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,

Michal

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