I was recently in Miami, Florida, for my niece’s wedding. We were driving back to return our rental car next to the airport and catch our return flight to New Jersey. Like everyone else today who needs directions, we typed the address into our phone’s GPS. We dutifully obeyed our GPS and exited, only to hear, “recalculating!” We proceeded back onto the highway in the opposite direction the navigator initially told us and again it said “recalculating.” The third time we heard “recalculating,” we lost all faith in the GPS. We called the rental car agency and discovered it was one of those quirky addresses that doesn’t register correctly with any navigating system and we had to correct our course.
This story is a powerful illustration for a fundamental lesson in Parshas Ki Seitzei, which makes a bar/bas mitzvah teen very nervous. This is the parsha containing the issue of “ben sorer u’moreh,” the wayward child who is executed for his wanton behavior and actions.
What terrible crime did this wayward child commit to warrant capital punishment? The Ramban says it was actually two crimes. First, he cursed his parents and rebelled against them. Second, he was a glutton for pleasure, transgressing the mitzvah of “Kedoshim tihyu, “You shall be holy,” and the mitzvah of “U’bo sidbokun,” you shall cleave to Hashem.
Seriously though, how can we convict a 13-year-old child for not possessing these high levels of holiness and cleaving to Hashem constantly, when most adults have not yet achieved these goals?
Rebbe Shimon tells us (Sanhedrin 71), “In reality, there never was and never will be a “wayward child” due to all the extremely specific conditions that must be followed to be classified as a ben sorer u’moreh. The reason why the Torah relates to us the whole topic, is to learn the topic and receive reward.” This is most enigmatic – a very detailed mitzvah with no practical application.
Rashi tells us that the crimes of this young adult currently are not deserving of capital punishment; however, he is being judged based on his future actions, for he is destined to become a murderer. Why are we so confident that this young adult will end up a murderer? The Ibn Ezra clarifies it’s clear that this individual’s interest is solely to indulge himself in this world; therefore, he will become an addict of pleasure and will stop at nothing to feed his addiction, even murder! Rav Chaim Friedlander explains that this is the purpose of our learning the topic of ben sorer u’moreh– to teach us the fundamental concept that we are judged based on our agenda and our goals in life.
This is really one of the main reasons why it’s hard for us to relate to Elul and Rosh Hashanah. Rav Yisrael Salanter points out that we get used to doing things out of habit and live our lives on autopilot, assuming that we are going in the right direction, although that may not be the case.. Our final destination is not going to change unless we change our habits, or even better, we change the GPS destination which forms our aspirations and goals for life. Becoming a better person requires looking ahead. We need to see where we are heading. Only then can we can evaluate our goals and possibly change direction for the better.
Last week there was a solar eclipse that was all the talk everywhere, my family included. Many people traveled long distances to states in which they would have a better view of the entire eclipse. Why all the excitement? Because it was out of the ordinary. We go to sleep and do not think twice whether the sun will rise the next day. We assume the world will continue in its natural path. Therefore, when something happens which is totally different from our expectations, it catches our attention!
As we approach Rosh Hashana, Hashem has set up a reminder for us that things need to change. The daylight hours get shorter, the nights become cooler, and around this area, the leaves start to change color. Change is in the air. This is our signal to re-evaluate our goals, fit more quality time into our days, and embrace and act on the opportunities that come with meaningful change. May we all meet with success in this holy endeavor.