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Parashat Ki Teze

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Ki Teze 5759/1999

"Seek and ye shall find:"

A new meaning for the Talmudic expression Drosh ve-Kabel Sahar

Gabi Barzilai

Department of Education

The ordinance of the "wayward and defiant son" (Deut. 21:18-21), Ben sorer u-moreh, is given special attention in the Mishnah and Gemarah. Tannaim and Amoraim sought a halakhic way of preventing implementation of this ordinance, which they viewed as cruel and unreasonable.[1] The eighth chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin in the Mishnah is devoted primarily to this endeavor, pursuing the approach to its utmost in Mishnah 4 and its further elaboration in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 71a:

Mishnah: If his father were willing [to bring him to the court for judgment], but his mother was not willing, [or] if his father were not willing, but his mother was willing, he does not become a wayward and defiant son unless both were willing. Rabbi Judah says: If his mother was not worthy of his father, he does not become a wayward and defiant son.

Gemarah: What is meant by her not being worthy? ... none other than equal to his father, as it has been said in the baraitha as well. R. Judah said: If his mother is not equal to his father, having the same voice, appearance, and height, he does not become a wayward and defiant son. Why so? Because Scripture says, "he does not heed our voice." Just as they must have the same voice, so too they must have the same appearance and height. Whom does this baraitha follow: that there never was and never will be a wayward and defiant son. So why was it [this ordinance] written in Scripture? Seek and ye shall find! After whom? Rabbi Judah. But perhaps you might say the baraitha should be ascribed to Rabbi Simeon? R. Simeon said: "Just because their son gorged on meat and Italian wine, would the father and mother have him stoned? Rather, there never was and never will be such a thing; so why was it written? Seek and ye shall find! R. Jonathan said: I witnessed such a son and sat on his grave.

This three-way discussion in the Gemarah deals with the feasibility of carrying out the ordinance of a wayward and defiant son. According to R. Jonathan, if the Torah wrote this passage in the form of an ordinance, then legally this ordinance must be a law that can be carried out; hence he had no doubt that it was indeed implemented. In contrast, R. Judah and R. Simeon believed that the ordinance of a wayward and defiant son was never enacted. R. Judah abrogated it by establishing unrealistic preconditions for satisfying it, while R. Simeon appealed to psychology, claiming that it was inconceivable parents would kill their own son for not heeding them. Both reached the same conclusion: "There never was and never will be a wayward and defiant son. So why was it [this ordinance] written in Scripture? Seek and ye shall find."

The closing expression drosh ve-kabel sahar ("seek and ye shall find [reward]"), which occurs several times in the gemarah, requires clarification. It is often understood to mean, "Study these laws simply for the sake of theoretical study, to receive reward for the study of Torah." Indeed, in certain instances in the gemarah it occurs in connection with rules of Halakhah not currently practiced but relevant to the future, known as hilkheta le-meshiha (Halakhah for the Messianic era).[2] This, however, is not the case in the current context, since R. Simeon and R. Judah believed that a wayward and defiant son was something which would never exist; the ordinance was written not to be enacted but only to be studied. That being so, what does this phrase wish to teach us?

Enlightenment on this question is provided by a Midrash on what the High Priest was instructed to say before the people went to war, Deut. 20:5-7:

The Rabbis taught: In the Scriptural text, "who has built a new house, ... who has planted a vineyard, ... who has paid the bride-price for a wife,..." (Deut. 20:5-7), the Torah teaches us proper etiquette, namely that a person should first build his house, then plant a vineyard, and lastly take a wife. Even Solomon wisely said, "Put your external affairs in order, get ready what you have in the field, then build yourself a home" (Prov. 24:27). "Put your external affairs in order," is a house; "get ready what you have in the field," is a vineyard; and "build yourself a home," is a wife. R. Eliezer, son of R. Jose ha-Gelili, said: "Put your external affairs in order" means study Scripture, Mishnah and Gemarah; "get ready what you have in the field," means do good deeds; and "then build yourself a home," means drosh ve-kabel sahar -- seek and ye shall find. (Sotah, 44a)

This homily also concludes with the words, "seek and ye shall find," to denote the loftiest human virtue after studying and obeying the Torah and doing good deeds. To what more can a person aspire who has learned the precepts and fulfilled them? It appears that the aspiration of such a person should be to transmit the heritage of the Torah to his children and pupils, to educate them to follow in its ways. In the homily from Tractate Sotah the phrase drosh ve-kabel sahar has to do with educating, and from here we may learn what it means in Tractate Sanhedrin 71a, relating to the wayward son.

If we look closely at the ordinance of the wayward and defiant son we see that it puts weighty demands on the parents: they are the only ones entitled to bring suit against their son; moreover, they are obligated to do so in order to protect the society in which they live. The son's deeds may not appear very serious to the parents, but the Torah views them as causing grave harm to the community and its relationship with G-d.[3] The wayward and defiant son has rejected parental authority, violating the law, "He who insults his father or his mother shall be put to death" (Ex. 21:17).[4] The Torah, however, places the responsibility for the son's punishment, and thus also indirectly for his actions, on the parents. It is their duty to know what their son is doing and to restrain him before it is too late, because he oversteps the bounds. This is an extremely difficult obligation, since it is natural for parents to ascribe such conduct in their child to the "mischievousness of adolescence" and the like, excusing themselves with the argument that "it will pass in time." The Torah demands that the person wielding authority also bear responsibility, so that society not reach a state of total dissolution of its values.[5]

It would seem that the Sages also had this in mind when they said, "A wayward and defiant son is judged by what will become of him; may he die innocent, not guilty" (Sanh. 71b-72a). It is inconceivable to take these words at face value, for no reasonable legal system judges a person for what he will do in the future. Thus the Sages meant to draw the parents' attention to the fact that the conduct of their son in the present, if he is not stopped in time, is likely to lead to far more serious criminal acts in the future. Therefore it is their duty to educate their children and to shape their behavior in the proper direction while they still have authority over their children. Thus, Drosh ve-Kabel Sahar means that this portion was included in the Torah so that one will educate his children and his reward will be that they never come to such behavior.

[1] This subject has recently been discussed by M. Halbertal, Mahapekhot Parshaniyot be-Hithavutan, Jerusalem 1997, pp. 42-68.

[2] Sanh. 51b; Zev. 45a.

[3] A. Phillips, "Nebalah - A term for Serious Disorderly and Unruly Conduct," VT, 25 (1975), pp. 237-241.

[4] Also Lev. 20:9; Deut. 27:16. Cf. J. Fleishman, "Offenses against Parents Punishable by Death," The Jew Law Annual, 10 (1992), pp. 7-37; J. Fleishman, Mehkarim be-Ma'amado shel ha-Yeled ba-Mikra u-va-Mizrah ha-Kadum (Dissertation), Ramat-Gan, 1989, p. 270-276.

[5] Similar demands, coupling heavy responsibility with authority, are found in the laws concerning a slain person found in the open ("the heifer whose neck is broken" Deut. 21:1-9), a husband who defames his wife (Deut. 22:13-21), and elsewhere. Although nowhere does it that these laws were never implemented, it appears that their main point concerns education and responsibility, their implementation being secondary.

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