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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

If a man have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother. They discipline him –but he does not listen to them. Then his father and mother shall take hold of him and take him out to the elders of his city…All the men of the city shall pelt him with stones and he shall die.

Be’er Mayim Chaim: The Torah employs two words for a male person – adam, and ish. The primary meaning of the former is related to edameh, I will compare. Such a person makes no move, utters no words, and indeed thinks no thought without comparing himself to the standard of the Torah. In other words, he exists on a plane of constant devekus, connecting everything in his sphere of influence, including the inner realms of his emotions and his thoughts, with HKBH. He does not require any special provisions to protect himself from foreign desires, because he has moved off-limits to any assaults by the chitzonim, the darker forces of spiritual emptiness. 

They are powerless to move him. His constant connection with HKBH leave him impervious to their designs because he dwells in the protection of His closeness.

So much for adam. The rest of us are called ish, opening up all kinds of unsavory possibilities. Going back to our early history, we, the majority, are represented by the image of the revolving sword wielded by the angel guarding the Way of G-d. The sword keeps turning, much as our lives do, from good to bad, and from bad to good. At times we succeed in empowering our neshamos to prevail over our lower tendencies, and we yearn for more davening, learning, and mitzvos. But at other times, especially when involved in our pursuit of our physical needs, we forget to turn our activity into avodah by directing out thoughts completely to Him. This leaves us vulnerable and exposed; we can easily be led from this to one aveirah after another.

Such is the subject of our pesukim. They speak of an ish, not an adam. The ish finds himself perpetually in the cross-hairs of two competing tendencies – that of his neshamah, which desires connection to Hashem, and that of his lower nature.

This ish has a son, meaning a set of actions that are the chief progeny of a person. Our parshah speaks of a person whose actions are chiefly determined by his lower tendencies, those that rebel against travelling the straight and narrow path of propriety and good. He is not at his core a bad person. The voices of his father and mother, i.e. the roots that generated him, still call out to him. Without anyone saying anything to him, he still hears their message.

If he does not hear those messages that urge him to return to the Way of G-d, what will become of him? It depends on how he responds to the other opportunities remaining for him to extricate himself from his rut.

His first opportunity comes when his father and mother – those inner voices of his roots – chastise him and discipline him after he failed to respond to their message. This mussar chastisement inheres in the words of Torah. When his inner voices are insufficient to completely rebuff the countervailing voices, when they fail on their own to get him to repudiate his imperfect actions, he still has recourse to a Torah that can inspire him to change.

Alas, this often still fails to move him. He either does not avail himself of the support that words of Torah can give him, or those words so not suffice to energize him. At that point, his inner voices must grab hold of him and take him to the elders of the city. The Zohar[2] takes this process to mean to be brought to a place frequented by Hashem, Knesses Yisrael, and the days of old. All of those are contained in the content of the Shema. More than any other portion of the Torah, this section, properly understood, can subjugate his errant will, and return it to the service of G-d. The theme of the Shema, particularly the first line, is the unique Oneness of Hashem. It brings us to the realization that the slightest action performed not for His sake – even in the arena of permissible foods and actions – is a repudiation of His Oneness, and plays into the hands of the sitra achra, i.e. propping up something that stands, as it were, outside of Hashem, as if there were something outside of and opposed to Him.

This thought is echoed by the Besht, commenting on another pasuk in Shema: “You will turn astray and worship other gods.” As soon as a person turns astray in the slightest from single-minded focus on Hashem, the Besht explained, as soon as he allows any other purpose or consideration affect his thinking – perforce he is worshipping other gods.

Recapitulating, if our ish fails to adhere to his inner voice, his own moral compass, he can try immersing himself in words of Torah. If those fail to restore his spiritual equilibrium, focusing on the Shema may remind him of the centrality of Hashem, and how the intrusion of any other purpose is tantamount to rejecting G-d.

If all these methods fail, then “All the men of the city shall pelt him with stones and he shall die.” In other words, remembering his mortality may help. He should remember that he walks the earth only a short while, after which he will die. And if he does not rectify his actions, he leaves himself vulnerable and exposed. He might very well fall prey to real avodah zarah, not just metaphorical idolatry. His end might very well be in facing his accusers in beis din, after which he will be executed by stoning.

[1] Based on Be’er Mayim Chaim, Devarim 21:18

[2] Zohar Balak 197B