The Talmud asserts that the rebellious son of the verse below never existed and never will. Nonetheless, the Torah relates this law to advise parents in the most difficult of issues – raising children. To Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, the law and its lessons help reveal Israel’s greatness.
“ ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he does not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ And all the men of his town shall pelt him with stones and he shall die; and you shall remove the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear and be afraid” (21:20–21): Three stages of deterioration are enumerated: (1) rebelliousness, (2) failure to be instructed and (3) pursuit of unnecessary diversions.
In some measure, we see a parallel to the behavior of Eisav, in contrast to his brother Jacob who “sat in tents” and “he hearkened to his father’s and mother’s voice” (Bereishis 25:27, 28:7). Eisav did not gain the satisfaction of accomplishment of wisdom; “he was a man of the field” (ibid. 25:27), and therefore to fill the vacuum in his soul, he spent his youth in hunting. His family was wealthy, and there was no lack of mutton and beef; but he needed additional diversions, and he ate venison.
Because the rebellious son does not listen to his parents (in the early days, all instruction was in the home), he cannot fill the vacuum of his soul and he therefore seeks superfluous food and drink as substitutes.
The son who listens to instruction enjoys the inner happiness of virtuous achievement and does not need to pursue physical pleasures. But the son who does not listen to instruction is never truly happy and therefore constantly seeks the empty pleasure of excessive food and wine as substitutes for the true pleasure of achievement.
Because the nations feel the emptiness in their lives, they seek the diversions of war, gladiators, drama, sports, romance, politics and all other ways of wasting their lives; whereas the children of Jacob spend their spare time in the Torah study. Their youth do not engage in promiscuity or drinking or narcotics or criminal mischief, for they enjoy the satisfaction of righteous living.
Our father Jacob, who “sat in the tent” (Bereishis 25:27) and “hearkened to his father and to his mother” (ibid. 28:7), required no physical pleasures to raise his spirit. But Eisav was “a man of the field” (ibid. 25:27) who spurned the opportunity of learning from his great parents, and he wasted his young years seeking the empty pleasures of hunting and eating venison. When he married, he did not consult his parents beforehand, and his wives “caused bitterness of spirit” to his noble father and mother (ibid. 26:35).
Jacob did not marry for pleasure, and because he obeyed his parents’ instruction and went to Padan-Aram (ibid. 28:7), Hashem rewarded him with the best wives and the best children.
The law of the rebellious son is one of the greatest testimonies to the excellence of ancient Israel. A young boy, not yet a youth, who committed no crime other than stealing from his father to eat and drink excessively, is put to death at the hands of the townspeople on of the insistence of his parents (21:19-20). Even though the Talmud adds so many conditions as to make such a sentence almost impossible, the lesson supplied by this law is enormous.
The depraved and wicked nations of today point to this law as an ancient barbarity, but Israel glories in the immense difference between themselves and the peoples that walk in darkness. “Let him die while innocent, not when he becomes guilty” (Sanhedrin 71B), before he and his offspring become a menace to the world. The unimaginable nobility of parents ready to sacrifice their affection when they see the waywardness of their child, and the immense nobility of a nation that is ready for such sacrifices for the sake of service to Hashem, testifies to their supreme excellence. (Fortunate Nation)
Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.