Parshat Hashavuah- The Weekly Torah Portion

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.


7 Responses to Parshat Hashavuah- The Weekly Torah Portion

  1. Silke says:

    I’m not sure whether this is a fitting question but who doesn’t take a risk doesn’t learn anything. I am a bit baffled that this piece implies that the ruling concerned itself only with women serving their country in this self-sacrificing way. In Germany quite a number of cases were reported where nicknamed Romeos from Eastern Germany seduced lonely ladies working as secretaries for top-notch West-German civil servants. Certainly if a Jew would equally misbehave out of patriotism it would be a sacrifice equal to a woman’s?

  2. Judah says:

    Hi Silke,

    Thank you for alerting me to this interesting question. It is analysed in the following Hebrew article, which I include in case any Hebrew readers are reading:

    If I understand you, you’re question is:

    Why are women allowed to be used for “honey-traps” but not men?

    Simply the answer is that for a man there is a much smaller problem to begin with, so the fact that a Jewish man can seduce a non-Jewish woman to save life is obvious and not even in question. Apparently, many do it just for the fun of it, but that’s a wholly different question.

  3. Silke says:

    thanks for answering, so there really is a difference made between men and women.

    “for a man there is a much smaller problem to begin with”

    that is discriminating against men and I am not being ironic here
    in the age before effective birth control I might have agreed because becoming pregnant from such an endeavour would presumably be horrible but these days that difference is not on the table any longer.

    Yes there are men who can and will hump anything living and moving but somehow being an indiscriminate humper and a committed patriot don’t seem to go well together in one person.
    none of the secretaries who stood trial for having succumbed to Romeos would by any measure qualify as attractive or lively. – to HAVE TO romance such a woman for years ranks in my scale of sacrifices very very high.

    and of course these days the risk for a man to get tricked into fathering an unwanted child is bigger than the risk for the woman conceiving. In my time in personnel in the 70s I’ve met lots of freshly divorced men and the pain they suffered from being separated from their offspring was heartbreaking to witness.

  4. Judah says:

    I didn’t mean a smaller problem sexually or emotionally. I meant from the point of view of Jewish law.

    In Biblical law a woman commits adultery buy sleeping with a man who is not her husband, while a man sins if he sleeps with a married woman, whether he is single or not. Indeed, polygamy was permitted and very common too among European Jews until 1,000 years ago and among Eastern Jews until very recently.

  5. Silke says:

    then Jewish law is very unjust to men when it comes to honey trapping

    Honey trapping is not about sleeping with a desired one, Honey Trapping is about having to do it on order.

    but what about a married one sleeping out of wedlock with an unmarried but not desired for marriage one?

    (I am not as rigidly opposed to polygamy as I probably should be)

  6. Judah says:

    Was she a virgin?
    Was she Jewish?
    Was she engaged?
    Was it consenting?

    If the answers are no, yes, no, yes, then not much.

    If the answers are yes, yes, yes, yes, they both get killed.

    If the answers are yes, yes, no, yes, he owes her father some financial compensation.

    If the answers are yes, yes, no, no, then she has the choice of marrying him and he can never divorce her if she wants.

    I could go on, but Jewish law is quite complicated and there are several other variables including whether it was during war or not.

  7. Silke says:


    that’s the kind of stuff I got hooked on all through my employed life and am likely to get hooked on even today – believe me German law on vacation taken or not (the duty of an employer to take care of his/her employees has to be considered) and IT property laws offer similar intricacies.

    of course I’d rebel against the virgin stuff, unless it would tilt things in my favour, but that is neither here nor there

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