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Parashat Ki Tetze 5777 — 09/02/2017

Parashat Ki Tetze 5777 — 09/02/2017

Deut. 21:10 – 25:18

If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, … take him out to the elders of his city … All the men of his city shall pelt him with stones and he shall die; and you shall destroy the evil from your midst… (21:18-21)
A wayward and rebellious son is killed because of his end … He will stand at the crossroads and rob people … The Torah says, “Let him die innocent, and let him not die guilty.”  (Rashi, ad loc)
If you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof, so that you will not place blood in your house if the faller falls from it.  (22:8)
He is fit to fall, but nonetheless, let his death not come about through you, for they [i.e. the Heavenly Court] make merit come about through one who is worthy, and that which is detrimental through one who is guilty (Rashi ad loc)

These statements appear to contradict the notion of free will.  In the first, the “wayward and rebellious son” is executed because of what he will become.  Apparently Torah thinks his end is inevitable, because he is not given a chance to mend his ways.  Two points should be noted here.  First, for anyone to be executed, they must first be warned by two kosher witnesses that what they’re about to do carries the death penalty, they have to acknowledge the warning and state that they’re going to perform the action anyway, and then immediately do it.  Second, there are additional conditions that must be met for a boy to be declared a wayward and rebellious son.  The voices of his parents must sound the same, they must be of the same height, the boy must steal money to buy a huge quantity of meat and wine and consume them at one sitting, etc.  No wonder the Talmud tells us “there never was a wayward and rebellious son, and there never will be one.”

Why, then, did the Torah write the passage of the wayward and rebellious son?  The Talmud tells us it’s so that we can study the passage and receive reward.  Indeed, the commentators draw many valuable lessons on parenting from the passage.  Perhaps also we can gain from considering the nature of free will from this passage as well.

The second passage speaks of “the faller,” who is “fit to fall.”  What does Rashi mean by “fit to fall”?  There is an opinion in the Talmud (Chullin 7b) that “a person does not so much as stub his toe without its having been decreed in Heaven.”  Now there could be two reasons for this decree.  Either the person performed some action in the past, and that action has rebounded upon him in this way.  The other possibility is that whatever happens poses a challenge which, if the person overcomes it (e.g. doesn’t let out a stream of curses when he stubs his toe), allows him to grow to a higher spiritual level.  In this case perhaps we have an easier time dealing with the free will of the “faller.”  Free will has nothing to do with what happens to us.  Free will has to do with the moral choices we make in reaction to what happens to us.

Similarly, I think we can explain the situation with the roof’s owner.  One who is “guilty” is one who does not follow the commands of Torah, which are life-supporting and create order in society.  He is the one who refuses to take the time and bear the expense to put a fence on his roof.  Consequently it is natural that he creates dangerous situations in which those who are destined to fall are more likely to meet their end.  Someone who is “worthy” and follows Torah’s commands does not create situations where the “faller’s” karma can reach him.  He’ll just have to find another roof to fall from.

Now let us return to the wayward and rebellious son.  He is apparently so far gone that he must be removed from society even before, technically, he deserves to be.  Why do we not say that he can repent?  Perhaps we can find an answer in the Pharaoh of the Exodus story.  For the first 5 plagues, Pharaoh hardens his heart against the Jews.  For the last 5, Gd hardens Pharaoh’s heart.  But Gd’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart means that Gd took away his free will!

The standard answer to this conundrum is that Pharaoh had “progressed” so far along his nefarious path that he was “too far gone” to change his ways.  (Note that another “standard” answer is that Gd strengthened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would be able to withstand the plagues – otherwise he might have relented only due to force majeure.  In other words, Gd allowed Pharaoh to exercise his free will in the face of the overwhelming events breaking over his head.)  In the same way, the wayward boy has demonstrated that he’s “too far gone” to mend his ways, and we have to be proactive to protect society from the budding sociopath.

How can somebody get so far off the path that they’re lost completely, at least for their current lifetime?  Consider this example.  If you sleep well at night, you get up feeling refreshed, your mind is clear, and your decisions are generally pretty good.  You make good choices, life goes your way, you’re not stressed out, you stay clear and continue to make good decisions.  Now consider the opposite situation: you’re tired, you’re not thinking clearly, and your decisions are less than ideal.  Now you’ve got some real problems on your hands – the ones you started with, plus the ones you’ve just created trying to deal with the first ones.  This can quickly spiral out of control.

Replace “good decisions” with “mitzvot” and “bad decisions” with sin, and, just in the same way, things can quickly get out of control, as our Rabbis tell us in Pirke Avot (IV:2): A mitzvah brings another mitzvah in its wake, a transgression brings another transgression in its wake.  The solution to the vicious cycle in the second part of our example is to get some rest.  The solution in life is t’shuvah, coming back to Gd.  As we’ve seen though, we have to grab every opportunity – like the upcoming High Holy Days – to do t’shuvah before it’s too late!


Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parashat Ki Teitzei

Where do we find Teshuvah in this parshah?

The parshah begins with “when you go out to war with the enemy….and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire her….”.

It ends with “…you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under Heaven; you shall not forget.”

In between these statements are about 72 commandments, emphasizing kindness—for example, in the treatment of the captive woman and of the escaped slave who may not be returned—and purity—for example, in the requirement that we not be rebellious against our parents.

With so many commandments, it is easy to get lost in details and to forget the Oneness. But the habit of kindness and the habit of purity and respect tune us into the Oneness for it is from the Oneness that we draw our ability to be kind, to be pure.

From the side of Gd, the Oneness, Energy and Love are always flowing to raise us up, to return us, to dissolve the veils that hide us from Oneness, our own Self.

The haftarah for this portion, Isaiah 54:1-10, gives an example: “For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed, but My Kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My Covenant of peace be removed, says the Lrd who has compassion for you”.  (Kabbalistic Bible, Rabbi Yehuda Berg).

This Kindness is always dissolving the veils that hide and revealing the Oneness that is Real, that is All:


Good thoughts to have as we come close to Rosh HaShannah, our New Year.

Baruch HaShem