This week’s parsha deals with the laws of the ben sorer u’Moreh which is loosely translated as a wayward and rebellious son. In such a case where the son exhibits certain traits required to be a ben soreh u’moreh, the Torah says that he’s given the death penalty. However, none of his actions warrant such a penalty. Rather, the reason he’s put to death isn’t because of what he has done, but because of what he will do in the future.
This is seemingly very difficult to understand. We learn in Sefer Breishis by the Parsha of Yishmael that a person is only judged by his present actions. How is it then justifiable to kill a young teen based on what we perceive he’ll do?
The Ibn Ezra gives an explanation to the ben sorer u’moreh which seemingly answers the question. He says that a ben sorer u’moreh’s biggest problem isn’t the sins he’s committed in the past, rather there’s a much deeper and fundamental issue. All the requirements the Torah gives are just ways to reveal to us the ben sorer u’moreh’s outlook on life. He doesn’t care at all about good deeds, or service to HaShem; his sole drive and motivation for his actions comes from a belief that the focal point of life is to derive as much enjoyment as possible from Olam Hazeh. A person like this will do whatever he can to give himself just as few more drops of enjoyment. It could be the desire to be licentious, or to experience the thrill of murder. This person doesn’t differentiate between right and wrong, nothing matters besides for his personal pleasure. Such a person, the Torah says to be killed now, because a person with such an outlook has no hope in the future.
I think there’s a very big mussar to be learnt out of this issue. Oft times, the worst things about a person aren’t the actual sins he commits, but the deep seeded roots where those actions came from.
We’re now in the month of Elul, a time for some much needed reflection about the past year. I don’t know with a certainty about everyone else, but every year at around this time I try to make a few resolutions to change for the better. And although I almost unilaterally start off strong, over time the “yamim noraim” inspiration fades and the resolutions become more infrequent, until the point where I reflect a year later, wondering “what happened?” What’s pshat? Why is it so hard to keep a simple resolution to be better?
I think the answer is what we learn from the ben sorer u’moreh. When someone does something which isn’t entirely appropriate, its normally not an isolated incident. Normally, there’s a deep seeded root inside the person which caused him to act that way. And without ever changing the root, no matter how many resolutions one makes, they’ll never stick.
In order to be able to build on something, it requires a strong foundation. If a person tries to build a house on foundations of playdoh, the house probably won’t last very long. In order to build a building, the foundation needs to be even stronger. The same is true with all of us. In order to really grow and build ourselves, the deep seeded foundation of our Emunah in HaShem needs to be strong. It’s the most important thing to strengthen. When a person sins, it isn’t merely because he felt a desire which he succumbed to, rather because at that precise moment, he forgot HaShem was watching. He forgot he was standing in front of his Father, his King.
We learn from the ben sorer u’moreh how bad it can be when someone’s roots are polluted. The real lesson to us, which is increasingly relevant as we approach Rosh Hashana, is to look deep down and asses what our essence is. What do we attribute importance to? What’s our outlook on life? Only when we’re able to say with confidence that we truly want to get closer to HaShem can we begin to change. Only when we know which way our heart really points can we be confident we’re heading in the right direction.