Parshat Ki Teitzei contains within it a discussion of the Ben Sorrer Umoreh, the rebellious child. The Torah describes a tween-age child that is gluttonous and rebellious and does not listen to his/her parents. Exasperated, the parents together bring the rebellious child to the judges of that city. The Torah treats such a situation with the utmost gravity, and such a young person is subject to capital punishment if found guilty.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 71) is skeptical if such a scenario ever actually occurred. According to one opinion, the Ben Sorrer Umoreh never actually existed in reality, and the Torah was aware of the impossibility of such a scenario. According to a second opinion, there is the hypothetical possibility of a Ben Sorrer Umoreh existing, but the probability of it actually occurring in real life is slim to none. According to both of these opinions, the purpose of the Torah introducing us to this rebellious child is “Derosh v’Kabel Sechar”, analyze the case, learn its lessons, and be rewarded for your efforts. What are the lessons of the Ben Sorrer Umoreh, from which we can learn and gain insight?
The Maharsha suggests two important lessons. According to the opinion that the Ben Sorrer Umoreh never could really happen, the reason is because there is an emphasis in the Talmud on the parity between both parents (same voice, same appearance) in order for the rebellious child to be liable. The Maharsha writes that such consistency is impossible, and the child can claim that sometimes the father would warn him and sometimes the mother would warn him, but never both of them at the same time- which is a requirement to be labeled a Ben Sorrer Umoreh.
The Maharsha continues to explain the rationale for the opinion that a Ben Sorrer Umoreh is possible but improbable. Although it is possible for both parents and child to fulfill all of the criteria laid out by the Torah/Talmud, it is highly unlikely, writes the Maharsha, that the parents would ever tell on their child and bring the child to be punished by the judges of the city. One of the requirements is that both parents bring the child to be disciplined. The Maharsha writes, based on his own observations, that it is more likely that the parents will have an abundance of compassion and tolerance towards their child, and not bring him/her to be disciplined. According to the Maharsha, the parents’ attitude constitutes misplaced compassion and tolerance that is detrimental to both the child and society at large.
As we begin a new school year it behooves us, as parents and educators, to heed well the lessons of the Ben Sorrer Umoreh as taught to us by the Maharsha. First, we must strive to present to our children a consistent message as far as our values and our expectations. To be most effective, the message should be consistent between each parent, as well as between parents and teachers. Children get confused and opportunities are missed when our lessons and messaging lack consistency. Second, we must understand, as the Rambam teaches, that an abundance of almost anything is dangerous. Gluttony is one type of overindulgence. But as the Maharsha explains, there is such a thing as overindulging our children: too much compassion and tolerance for a child’s misbehavior. When we love our children, but do not set limits, we can be doing more harm than good.
If we strive for a consistent message, and love our children while providing for their limits, then we will, B’Ezrat Hashem, be worthy of the reward that is promised to those who explore the meaning behind the Ben Sorrer Umoreh.