This week we read about the rebellious son who will not listen to his father and mother, but instead just eats and drinks. We are shocked to discover that he is taken out and stoned to death. The gemara explains that he is killed although he has hardly sinned yet. He is killed because it is already inevitable how he will turn out.
The Talmud discusses this child at length, and seeks to define exactly how he must behave in order to be killed. Criteria are established that make his execution impossible and the whole situation hypothetical. For example, he is only killed if his father and mother are identical in appearance and have the same voice. Eventually the rabbis conclude that this rebellious son, “..has not been and will not be.” The Talmud asks if such a case “..has not been and will not be” then why do we study it and replies, “Study and you will receive a reward.”
Usually this is understood to mean that the study of Torah is a commandment in and of itself, divorced from the question of which commandments we keep. When we buy an electrical appliance, we read its instructions in order to know how to operate it. If we already know, there is no purpose in reading them. Likewise, in most fields of life the purpose of study is to know what to do.
Torah is different. We study it, not only to discover what G-d wants of us, but because the study itself is what He wants. On receiving the Torah we said, “We will do and we will listen (learn)”. The midrash tells how after Israel said “We will listen and we will learn.” angels came down from heaven and anointed us with two crowns, one for doing and one for learning.
Had we have said, “We will learn and we will do.” it would have been clear that the purpose of the study was to know how to keep the commandment. In which case they would have each received a single crown for doing keeping the Torah.
However, by reversing the order we showed that the purpose of learning was not just to know how to keep the commandment, but because learning is a commandment in and of itself. For that we received two crowns. Study and you will receive a reward.
On a deeper level, another reason for having a law, which is never enforced, is for its value as an educational tool. Society may outlaw soft drugs or underage consenting sex as its way of making a moral statement. Likewise, a son who considers behaving in a disrespectful way to his parents might ponder the thought that his action is considered punishable by death by his Maker. The fact that this law is not enforced, for technical reasons, makes the sin no less serious.
Finally, “Study and you will receive a reward” might be directed at the father as if to say that by Torah study you might solve the problem and having a loving and mutually-respectful relationship will be the reward. Let your son see you study and he will wish to as well. Study with him and you will both learn to respect each other. Study and you will receive your reward.
The month of Ellul has begun and every say we hear the shofar (ram’s horn)waking us up to return to ourselves and our Maker.
It is interesting to note that many of laws regarding the shofar are learned from the crying of Sisera’s (king of Canaan) mother. He lost in battle to Israel and it was because Sisera’s mother cried a hundred cries when he did not return home that the shofar is blown for a total of 100 blasts on Rosh Hashana.
Surely, there are other cases of people crying in the Bible that we should have to learn the details of such an important law from the mother of a truly wicked individual.
It was because Sisera’s mother cried a hundred cries when he did not return home that the shofar is blown for a total of 100 blasts on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that there is a greater significance to these cries than meet the eye. Up until that point Sisera had known only victory and success. How easy in such a situation to forget one’s Maker. The cry of Sisera’s mother was the cry of understanding that man’s abilities are finite while G-d is infinite. When we know only victory we are sure that there is no mightier than man. Too often it takes failure or punishment to remember that thee is a G-d in the heavens.
The shofar reminds us that there are many reasons to return. Some return out of desperation or fear, but happy is he who returns because of love.