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Posted on August 30, 2012 (5772) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:
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Parshas Ki Seitzei

The Torah Introduces The Concept of “Tough Love”

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 868, Dying Hair For Men – Asur or Mutar? Good Shabbos!

Parshas Ki Seizei contains one of the Torah’s more perplexing chapters — the laws of the Wayward and Rebellious Son (Ben Sorer U’Moreh). The situation involves a male child between the ages of 13 and 13 and a half who begins to “act out” in a very dangerous manner. He steals from his parents. He is gluttonous in his consumption of meat and wine. The Torah prescribes very severe punishment: The parents must bring the child into court and the Beis Din will sentence him to stoning, the most severe of the capital punishments mentioned in the Torah.

The Talmud in Sanhedrin asks why the Torah was so harsh with the Ben Sorer U’Moreh for behavior that certainly does not warrant the death penalty. The Gemara answers that the Torah realizes what the eventual outcome of such an adolescent will be. Eventually, he will not be able to sustain his lifestyle financially and will come to rob from people. He will eventually get into an altercation in which he will take someone’s life. It is better that he be put to death when he is relatively innocent than let him come to thievery, robbery, and eventually murder when he would be deserving of the death penalty!

The Gemara adds – at least according to one opinion – that the situation of a Ben Sorer U’Moreh never actually occurred and never could occur. The reason for this is that the legal conditions necessary to execute such a child are so exacting and unlikely that it is virtually impossible for them to ever come to fruition. The Gemara justifies the fact that an “impossible” event is dealt with at length in the Chumash and in the Talmud with the principle “come expound its lessons and receive reward for that” (drosh v’kabel sechar).

In one sense, this can be understood to mean that since it is part of the Torah, we will receive reward for studying it, irrespective of the practical application of these laws (in the same way that we receive reward nowadays for studying the laws of the Temple or other ritual practices that we are no longer able to observe on a practical level.)

However, Rabbi Abraham J Twerski has a different insight in the expression drosh v’kabel sechar. He maintains that the Torah is teaching us a lesson here which should be expounded and for which we will gain practical insight and advice. The Torah is talking here about a concept which has perhaps become in vogue over the last 15 or 20 years, but was unheard of before that. This is the concept of “tough love,” which the Torah introduced many millennia before any psychologist or social worker ever came up with the expression. Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski is himself a practicing psychiatrist and his area of specialization is addictions. He deals with the problem of drug addiction, which unfortunately, is not a rare problem even in our own community.

As a practicing psychiatrist who has dealt with this, he makes the statement that the only way a person who has an addiction is going to be cured is through “tough love”. That “tough love” means the parents who have such a child must at times act in ways that seem insensitive and cruel to the child. The parents cannot just keep providing the child with money to feed his habit. If it means that the child will be arrested for stealing money from others or that he will have to spend time in jail as a result of his crimes, so be it. The eventuality and the inevitability of a person who has an addiction problem is that the only way it is going to be ultimately dealt with is if it is to be cured once and for all. When the Torah records the Parsha of the Wayward and Rebellious son, it is informing us of the principle of “tough love”.

No human being is more merciful than the All Merciful One. How then can this Torah of Kindness whose ways are the ways of pleasantness proscribe that parents should take their children to court to have them executed? The answer is that this is the ultimate mercy, because the alternative is even worse than that.

Just as if – Heaven Forbid – a child should have a malignancy on his leg and the only chance for survival would require amputation of the leg, Rachmana litzlan, the parents who brought that child to the hospital to have his leg amputated would not be viewed as cruel parents but as merciful parents, so too this idea applies to the (theoretical) case of parents who have to bring their Wayward and Rebellious son to Beis Din to undergo the punishment proscribed for a Ben Sorer U’Moreh. This is the only way, under those circumstances, to save – at least the “World to Come” (Olam HaBah) — of this child. The “Drosh v’kabel Sechar” of this chapter is that sometimes “tough love” must be applied.

I always say never to pasken halacha (act in practice) based on ideas and opinions presented in my lectures. Certainly, regarding interacting with children and applying “tough love” to children acting out, no one should pasken from a lecture. But the concept is a valid one in certain situations of child raising and it is a prime lesson which we should be aware of in studying the laws of Ben Sorer U’Moreh: Sometimes what appears to be cruel, is the biggest salvation for a child.

The Reason For The Hatred of The Ammonites and Moabites

The Torah teaches that an Ammonite and a Moabite are not allowed to enter the Congregation of Hashem – even 10 generations after they have converted to Judaism they are not allowed to intermarry with a member of the Jewish nation. [Devorim 23:4]. We are furthermore commanded never to seek their peace or welfare [Devorim 23:7]. They are basically excommunicated from entry into the Jewish people.

Next the Torah teaches, “You shall not hate an Edomite (convert), for he is your brother; you shall not hate an Egyptian (convert) because you were a stranger in his land. Their third generation offspring (following their conversion) may enter the Congregation of Hashem.” [Devroim 23:8-9] Targum Yonasan adds a very interesting explanation on the prohibition to ever marry a descendant of an Ammonite or Moabite: Even if they convert (and profess their loyalty to Judaism), there is still deep seated hatred in their hearts that lasts forever.

Logically, if we took a poll as to who would have a greater likelihood of hating the Jews eternally – the descendants of Esav (Edom), the descendants of Egypt, or the descendants of Lot (Ammon and Moav) most people would not chose the descendants of Lot. Esav has a long standing gripe with us. Esav felt that Yaakov stole his right as the first born. The Egyptians should certainly hate us – we in effect destroyed their entire country. We took the mightiest empire in the world and reduced it to rubble. Every one of their first born were killed. And yet, somehow after a few generations, the Edomite and Egyptian can overcome their perhaps understandable hatred of Jews. But we never really wronged the offspring of Lot, the nephew of Avraham Avinu. On the contrary, Avraham was terribly kind to Lot: he took him in, he set him up in business, and ultimately he saved Lot’s life. Logically speaking, they should owe us a favor and love us. It is specifically those nations which hate us eternally! Why is that?

I once heard the answer to this insight from the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Ruderman, zt”l, [1901-1987] who used to quote it in the name of the Chasam Sofer. This is a fundamental insight into human behavior. The Chasam Sofer used to say, “I don’t understand why this person hates me. I’ve never done him a favor!” On the face of it, this does not seem to make any sense. We would expect the concluding statement to be, “I have never done anything wrong to him.”

However, that is not what the Chasam Sofer said. When one does a favor for someone, it creates a psychological debt that the recipient owes his benefactor something. Gratitude is implicitly expected and people do not like to be indebted to anyone. The greater the favor was, the greater the odds that it will be impossible to properly repay and the greater the chances that this debt which cannot be repaid will cause hatred in the heart of the recipient towards his benefactor.

This is the difference between Ammon and Moab on the one hand and Edom and Egypt on the other. Truly, we destroyed Egypt, but after a few generations, one can get over that. The “offense” toward Edom happened 4000 years ago. Esav did all right for himself. They can get over that. But Lot realized that Avraham saved his life. If not for his uncle, he would not be around. That debt of gratitude, which could never be repai,d could psychologically only be dealt with by denying the favor and hating the benefactor instead. That hatred of Lot for Avraham was passed down through his daughters to the nations of Ammon and Moab and it is a hatred which lasts forever.


This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion. The halachic topics dealt with in the portion of Ki Seitzei in the Commuter Chavrusah Series are the following:

Tape # 020 – Non-Halachic Marriage Ceremonies
Tape # 065 – Polygamy and the Cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom
Tape # 110 – Mamzeirus: Possible Solutions?
Tape # 156 – Reconciling Divergent Customs Between Husband and Wife
Tape # 203 – The Pre-War “Get”
Tape # 250 – The Mitzvah of Ma’akeh
Tape # 293 – “Get Me’useh”: The Prohibition of the “Forced Get”
Tape # 339 – Shana Reshona: The First Year of Marriage
Tape # 383 – The Mitzvah of Burial
Tape # 427 – Trying on Suits that May Have Shatnes
Tape # 471 – Autopsies on Non-Jews
Tape # 515 – Women Wearing Men’s Clothing
Tape # 559 – The Double Portion of the Be’chor
Tape # 603 – Burying a Rasha Next to a Tzadik
Tape # 647 – Ramps and Stages – Do They Need a Maakeh?
Tape # 691 – Chassanah Minhagim
Tape # 735 – Brachos in a Bathroom?
Tape # 779 – Shehecheyanu at a Chasuna
Tape # 823 – Tzar Ba’al Hachayim – Does It Apply to People?
Tape # 867 – Dying Hair For Men – Asur or Mutar?
Tape # 911 – Returning a Lost Pacifier
Tape # 955 – The Un-Cancelled Stamp – Can You Re-use it?
Tape # 998 – Making a Bracha for Building a Ma’akeh?
Tape #1042 – Dressing Up As A Woman for Chasunah Dancing and on Purim?
Tape #1046 – A Bracha for Shiluach Hakein?

Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.


RavFrand, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand and Torah.org.

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