One of the less understood laws of the Torah is that of the Ben Sorer u’Moreh, the rebellious son:
.כִּי יִהְיֶה לְאִישׁ בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל אָבִיו וּבְקוֹל אִמּוֹ וְיִסְּרוּ אֹתוֹ וְלֹא יִשְׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם וְתָפְשׂוּ בוֹ אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ וְהוֹצִיאוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל זִקְנֵי עִירוֹ וְאֶל שַׁעַר מְקֹמוֹ. וְאָמְרוּ אֶל זִקְנֵי עִירוֹ בְּנֵנוּ זֶה סוֹרֵר וּמֹרֶה אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ בְּקֹלֵנוּ זוֹלֵל וְסֹבֵא. וּרְגָמֻהוּ כָּל אַנְשֵׁי עִירוֹ בָאֲבָנִים וָמֵת וּבִעַרְתָּ הָרָע מִקִּרְבֶּךָ וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל יִשְׁמְעוּ וְיִרָאוּ – If a man has a wayward and rebellious son, who does not obey his father or his mother, and they rebuke him, and he still does not listen to them; his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, and to the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not obey us; he is a glutton and a guzzler.”
And all the men of his city shall pelt him to death with stones, and he shall die. So shall you cast out the evil from among you, and all Israel will listen and fear. (21:18-21)
The underlying reason that a Ben Sorer u’Moreh would theoretically have a death sentence is that Chazal understood that such a child has no boundaries and will eventually murder an innocent person. It is better to die young and innocent than a guilty man later on. This is very difficult to understand, even setting aside the free will paradox implied.
The Torah sets impossible parameters and conditions: the parents have to be united in agreement in every regard for their son be sentenced to death – what parent would do such a thing, let alone both? Furthermore, the age at which Ben Sorer u’Moreh applies is limited to the three months after his 13th birthday; he needs to have stolen a certain amount of meat; itself cooked a particular way; he needs to have drunk a certain amount of wine; all the while on his fathers property. These conditions are so improbable that the Gemara in Sanhedrin writes it off as impossible. The Gemara states that a Ben Sorer u’Moreh never happened, and never will; it is in the Torah simply so that it will be analysed, and its students will be rewarded.
But what reward can the Gemara mean? It cannot be more Torah study, and it cannot be academic. Even without this section, in a hundred lifetimes a person could not hope to complete the entire Torah. The Torah is not lacking material that it needed “filler” content. So what does the Gemara mean that it should be analysed, and those who do so will be rewarded?
R’ Moshe Mordechai Epstein concludes that the laws of a Ben Sorer u’Moreh have a more subtle reward than the ability to study more Torah.
By studying this episode, one discovers the Torah’s approach to parenting, how to raise them properly; and how to prevent straying.
When a child is overindulged, it is detrimental to everyone – the word we use is “spoilt” – this person has literally been ruined. The Ben Sorer u’Moreh is someone who is out of control from adolescence, and the Torah tells us to recognise this characteristic. This is what the Torah means when it says ובערת הרע בקרבך, וכל ישראל ישמעו ויראו – So shall you cast out the evil from among you, and all Israel will listen and fear.
The Torah wants kind, balanced human beings; not wild, carefree and selfish people. This tasks us with preventing evil in our children, before it is too late. We are meant to learn from the Ben Sorer u’Moreh as the paradigm of what not to do – וכל ישראל ישמעו.
Perhaps the Gemara itself hints to this. The Gemara says that the function of Ben Sorer u’Moreh is דרוש וקבל שכר – analyse it and receive reward. The Gemara does not say למוד, to study it, but דרוש, analyse it. The reward is וכל ישראל ישמעו, how to raise balanced children.
A tree can be straightened with a splint while still a sapling. It takes twenty years to grow an oak tree, but just a few months to grow a cucumber.