Parashat Ki tetse
September 1-2, 2017 • 11 Elul 5777
Annual (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19): Etz Hayim p. 1112-1136; Hertz p. 840-857
Triennial (Deuteronomy 21:10-23:7): Etz Hayim p. 1112-1123; Hertz p. 840-847
Haftarah (Isaiah 54:1-10): Etz Hayim p. 1137-1139; Hertz p. 857-858

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Rabbi Sid Slivko, Faculty, Oded Adult Education Program, Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center, USCJ

Parashat Ki tetse presents us with the very straightforward case of the rebellious son – the ben sorer u’moreh.

Two parents have a son who doesn’t listen to them – not unusual. They vent their frustration in front of the elders of the city, saying their son doesn’t listen to them and, moreover, is a glutton – also not unusual. The elders declare him to be a ‘ben sorer u’moreh’ – arebellious son’ and sentence him to death by stoning. Maybe a bit unusual.

Apparently, ‘boys will be boy’s is not a Torah value. Kill him before he goes rogue, however, is. Like rodef – the pursuer, whom we are obliged to stop from committing murder by any means.  Better the rebellious son be executed while he’s relatively innocent before he becomes a guilty adult.

However, the scholars of the Talmud have a problem with that.

So we find in Tractate Sanhedrin (71a), that they reject this reading, offering instead a mishmash of midrashic conditions which render the case un-prosecutable. The boy must steal his parents’ money. He must consume a sizeable quantity of meat and wine. His parents must be similar in voice and appearance.  It’s as if the scholars tried to prevent the case from going to trial.  In fact, the Talmud ultimately declares there never was nor ever could be a rebellious son. So why, asks the Talmud, does this even appear in the Torah?  ‘Drosh vekabel s’char’, it answers, ‘interpret and be rewarded.’

A wonderful phrase, but what does it really mean?

Simply put, it means we should interpret the Torah for the sake of interpreting, not for its practical application – what we call ‘learning lishma’. But a more midrashic interpretation gives this exhortation a more nuanced meaning.

We know, for example, that the Torah requires courts to condemn someone to death for capital crimes. Yet despite what’s on the books, the rabbis in the Talmud maintain that a court which executes a convicted criminal once in 7 years (or once in 70!) is a bloodthirsty court (Makkoth 7a).  In fact, they would jump through hoops to find reasons for acquittal because they believed that mercy is the driving spirit of the Torah.  So how could they justify executing a child who hasn’t even committed a capital crime?

Hence the exhortation. Drosh! – Interpret! Vekabel s’char – and be rewarded for saving the boy’s life.

Alternatively, the rabbis knew that applying the law as written was not acceptable in their day and age, even if at one time it may have been. But erasing it from the Torah because it’s no longer valid would set a precedent for anyone to remove whatever they don’t like to make the Torah more likeable.  So rather than ‘cutting and pasting’ this mitzvah they repurposed it as a cautionary tale for parents. It makes a vivid impression, but shouldn’t be taken literally.

Drosh!, says the Talmud – apply midrash to align the case with Torah values. Vekabel s’char –be rewarded for preventing critics from throwing out the rebellious baby with the bathwater.

So when Rabbi Yonatan claims he sat on the grave of a rebellious son, we accept it, because it strengthens the idea that halakhah does evolve over time, while its essential spirit remains intact.

If we keep this in mind when we learn Torah or create midrash, maybe we too will merit a similar reward.

A Vort for Parashat Ki tetse
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, Editor, Torah Sparks

The Torah instructs us not to harness an ox and a donkey to plow together (Deut. 22:10).  The commentators explain this as tsar ba’alei hayim “causing animals to suffer,” in several ways.  On the physical level, it exhausts the donkey, as the weaker of the two.  And it can be psychologically difficult for the donkey as well.  The ox chews its cud, the donkey does not, so the latter thinks the ox is eating all the time and that he’s being deprived.  The M’or v’Shemesh (R’ Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Halevi Epstein, 18thPoland, the leading student of R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk) said the ox represents higher spiritual values; the donkey material values. Our worship and study must be free of struggle with material passions.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Those who count Mitzvot claim that this Parasha has more Mitzvot than any other in the Torah.  Most of the laws are from the sphere of our interactions with other people such as family, workers, or other nations.

1) 21:18-21discusses a very difficult family situation. What is wrong with this child?  What do the parents do when trying to discipline at home does not work? Why do you think that the Torah instructs the parents to turn to this body? If it comes to a death sentence, all the people of his town have to participate.  What might be the reason for that?

2) If you build a house, what must you do to the roof (22:8)?  Why?  What might that tell you about the use of roofs in biblical times?

3) Ammonites and Moabites (2 nations on the eastern side of the Jordan) are forbidden to marry into the Israelite community (23:4-7). What reason does the Torah give for this prohibition? Not all foreigners are dealt such harsh treatment.  Who can join, according to 23:8?  How does their relationship with Israel compare with that of Amon and Moab?

4) A person who gives a loan to a fellow person may demand a security, but the Torah puts restrictions on the lender (24:10-13).  Where may the lender not go to collect the security? What might be the reason for this?  If the person is poor, there is an additional restriction.  What is it?  What do you learn about the amount of clothing/covers that people had?

5) In 24:14-15 we get a glimpse of labor laws. What might the employer be tempted to do? When does the [day] worker have to be paid?  Why? Who is covered by this Torah law?