Wednesday, August 26, 2009

ben sorer u'moreh / zakein mamrei

Both the ben sorer u'moreh mentioned in this week's parsha (21:18-21) and the zakein mamrei mentioned in last week's parsha (17:8-13) were given public executions with announcements of their crime made so people would take note and learn from their example. Yet, there is a slight difference in the expression the Torah uses in each case. With respect to ben sorer u'moreh the Torah writes, "v'chol yisrael yishme'u v'yira'u"; with respect to zakein mamrei the Torah writes, "v'chol ha'am yishme'u v'yira'u." Why the difference?

Netziv explains that the term "am" usually refers to the hoi polloi, the common man, while the term "yisrael" is usually reserved to mean the righteous select few. Everyone appreciates the significance of ritual. If the zakein mamrei taught that chameitz can be eaten until 11:00 in the morning and the calendar of Beis Din said you can eat only until 10:00, every Joe and Jane in klal yisrael can understand why this zakein mamrei's view is out of bounds -- the "am" gets the lesson.

The ben zorer u'moreh is not guilty of violating a ritual law; he is guilty of living a life steeped in dangerous indulgence. Many of the "am" will not even see the crime in the ben sorer u'moreh's behavior -- so he stole some food, so he is a disobedient teenager, so his life revolves around food, drink, partying -- what does that have to do with Judaism? It is only the "yisrael" who takes note of the lesson and appreciate that ritual alone does not define Judaism, but attitude and lifestyle are equally significant.


  1. So true; a certain individual, whose relationship with me is rishon be'rishon, has a restaurant in NJ, "Just Good Food," and they offer a massive hamburger (which happens to be excellent). I suggested they call it the Tartimar burger, a tartimar basar being the shiur for zolleil ve'sovei. He wisely declined. It's a good seller.

    And on to the pedantic: 'hoi', in Greek, means 'the.' Hoi polloi= the many, or the multitudes. Saying "The hoi polloi" is like saying mayim achronim vasser water. The correct locution, of course, sounds hoity toity, a phrase unrelated to hoi polloi.


    "The the is not part of the core meaning. Those writers who knew Greek well--including Dryden, Byron, our Oxford scholar quoted above, and Sir W.S. Gilbert ("'Twould fill with joy,/And madness stark the hoi polloi (a Greek remark)"--Iolanthe)--always used the phrase with the. Hoi is not an English word for the."

  3. I've head (the) hoi polloi argument before. But the point here is more concerned with standards of behavior than of language. It's a warning that what appears to mere self-indulgence leads to the slippery slope of the life of a rasha. The parents of the ben sorer umoreh can't just say, "he's in a rebellious stage," and let it go. They have to address the issue and put a stop to such behavior -- even to the point of bringing the boy to beis din. Of course, there is an opinion that it is impossible to come up with a situation that matches the halachic definition exactly. But the lesson on parenting and discipline is clearly made, nonetheless.

  4. Rebbitzen Divrei Chaim, I have the greatest respect for the Divrei Torah that the Rav posts, and I agree that the lesson of parental discipline is both valuable and timely, especially for Jewish parents who often lean to the error made with Avshalom. The end of my comment was not intended to diminish the power of the dvar torah, it is just a natural result my undisciplined and dissipate lifestyle.

    But since you mention it, there's an interesting Gemara/Rashi in Yoma 78b, that Rabbah used to buy cheap earthenware vessels for his children so they could smash them and let off some steam. A child is not and should not be an adult, and sometimes, I think, we have to let children be children.

  5. No stira: a ben sorer u'moreh is possible only after age 13. Let children be children; don't let adults be children forever.

  6. you saw the Netziv before this year, right?

  7. I don't recall having seen it -- I don't read Netziv religiously every week and don't necessarily recall every vort. It is actually in the hosafos in the back and caught my eye this year because I was using in the beis medrash a new edition of Netziv that has it incorporated onto the page. Also, while the Netziv distinguishes "am" from "yisrael", he does not set up the mussar haskel exactly the same way I did, so ayen sham.

  8. As my esteemed husband points out, Barzilai, a teen is not halachically a child. Once he hits 13, he has all the obligations of a full adults except army conscription and misa biyeday shamayim, which only kick in at 20. In today's generation, not only are teens indulged, but people in their 20s and 30s -- even when married -- because their parents never want to say no to them or feel that their "children" are doing without anything they want (not need).

  9. great unknown9:02 PM

    Children over 13 cannot be criticized for dependent, irresponsible behavior: they are trained into it by our system of "chinuch." I once asked the principal of the yeshiva high school where I was teaching math why the students were so immature. His response: " We keep them that way; it makes them easier to control."

    There is no way to develop a responsible, mature adult if the "system" prohibits independent decision making, the right to question authority appropriately, and proportional punishment for misbehavior.

  10. Great unknown,

    Are children educated in prep schools who are groomed for pre-med or law in the Ivy leagues from birth an example of the independent decision making you are looking for? Are the non-jewish teens who are listening to rap, think britney spears is a role model, and maybe doing recreational drugs better?

    In general, chinuch is but one ingredient in a child's makeup. Parents need to take charge, set demanding expectations, and encourage children to excel.

  11. great unknown10:25 AM

    I am not comparing Jewish "chinuch" to secular - even prep school - education.* I am comparing Jewish "chinuch" to Jewish Chinuch.

    Hashem expects a 13-year-old to be mature enough to be liable to the death penalty for chillul shabbos, e.g., and malkos for most mitzvot lo ta'aseh. I.e., Hashem expects us to raise our children to this level of maturity/responsibility by this age - and a mufla samuch la'Ish is subject to some responsibility/liability even earlier.

    If our "chinuch" system does not engender this kind of maturity, then it is not Jewish Chinuch.

    As for the obligation of the parents, I fully agree. However, the expenses of "chinuch" often force both parents to work to the degree that they have no time/energy to invest in true chinuch, and thus depend on the school system. Thus, "chinuch" destroys chinuch.

    The critical point, I think, is that our society (and you [pl.] are an outstanding exception) tends to confuse education with chinuch, and knowledge with wisdom. There are many teachers, but few mechanchim.

    A refuah shlaimah to your MIL.

    *I will say, however, that in my experience in kiruv in Eretz Yisroel, the students - from secular, usually prep-school backgrounds - were much more capable of independent thought and decision making than those I am exposed to in the chareidi community.

  12. I agree with you, great unknown, and I am certain my husband does, too, though he enjoys countering more than concurring.

  13. great unknown3:58 PM

    Only so that you can counter your rebbetzin!

  14. A friend gave a sociology course in a woman's college here, and he used Rav Solomon's most recent English book as a course requirement. This was not just frumkeit under the guise of science. He says that such books are pure applied sociology, in that they address and influence the man's role, the woman's role, family dynamics, and so on.

    One of the things he discussed was that Rav Solomon says that schools have stolen the Shabbos table from families. Where once the seuda was an occasion for relaxed discussion and zemiros and shmuessing and bonding, now each child comes with a lengthy list of questions and answers which his rebbi requires be addressed at the table. You have five kids, with five sheets, and you have to send a note that you went through the sheets, you end up with stress and tension and nothing shabbosdik at all. The best intentions, and counterproductive results.

  15. My youngest used to not only have sheets on the parsha, but she had to do chazarah on the previous sheets as well. When you get to Mikeitz and VaYigash and are doing chazarah on first grade questions back to Braishis, it does get a bit nerve wracking.

  16. "zorer u'moreh"- What's up with all the z's by the way? Looks like Spanish..