The laws of a Ben Sorer Umoreh, a rebellious son, are given in this week’s parsha:
יח. כִּי יִהְיֶה לְאִישׁ בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל אָבִיו וּבְקוֹל אִמּוֹ וְיִסְּרוּ אֹתוֹ וְלֹא יִשְׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם יט. וְתָפְשׂוּ בוֹ אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ וְהוֹצִיאוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל זִקְנֵי עִירוֹ וְאֶל שַׁעַר מְקֹמוֹ כ. וְאָמְרוּ אֶל זִקְנֵי עִירוֹ בְּנֵנוּ זֶה סוֹרֵר וּמֹרֶה אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ בְּקֹלֵנוּ זוֹלֵל וְסֹבֵא כא. וּרְגָמֻהוּ כָּל אַנְשֵׁי עִירוֹ בָאֲבָנִים וָמֵת וּבִעַרְתָּ הָרָע מִקִּרְבֶּךָ וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל יִשְׁמְעוּ וְיִרָאוּ
18. If a man has a wayward and rebellious son, who does not obey his father or his mother, and they chasten him, and [he still] does not listen to them. 19. 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 place. 20. And 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.” 21. And all the men of his city shall pelt him to death with stones, and he shall die. So shall you clear out the evil from among you, and all Israel will listen and fear.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin 71a states that a Ben Sorer Umoreh never happened, and never will. Why is it in the Torah then? So that we will analyse it and be rewarded.
The underlying reason that a Ben Sorer Umoreh would ostensibly have a death sentence is that it is better for him to die innocent, than guilty of murder later in life. But the Torah sets an impossible condition – the parents have to be united in every regard that their son be sentenced to death -no parent would out themselves through this. Furthermore, the age at which Ben Sorer Umoreh 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 on his fathers property.
R’ Moshe Mordechai Epstein has great difficulty with the restrictions to the application of Ben Sorer Umoreh. Furthermore, the reward the Gemara discusses cannot be that we will study more Torah – that is not a reason to be in the Torah, in addition to which, even if it were left out, in a thousand years a person could not hope to complete the entire Torah – the Torah was not short on material that it needed “filler”. This compels him to conclude that the mitzvah of Ben Sorer Umoreh has a more subtle reward than the ability to just have more Torah to study.
By studying this episode, one discovers the Torah’s approach to parenting, to raise them correctly, and if they stray, how to correct them.
When a child is overindulged, it is detrimental to him and society. The Ben Sorer Umoreh is someone who is out of control from the outset of adolescence, and the Torah tells us to learn from it. This is what the pasuk means when it says ובערת הרע בקרבך, וכל ישראל ישמעו ויראו -destroy the evil in your midst, and all of Yisrael will see and fear. The Torah wants us to be balanced individuals, and not wild, carefree and selfish, and tasks us with preventing evil in our children, before it is too late. We should learn from the Ben Sorer Umoreh as the paradigm of what not to do – וכל ישראל ישמעו.
If I may, I would like to suggest that the Gemara itself hinted at this. The Gemara said that the function of Ben Sorer Umoreh was דרוש וקבל שכר – analyse it and receive reward. The Gemara did not say למוד, to study it, but דרוש, analyse it. This is itself וכל ישראל ישמעו, that we learn from the Ben Sorer Umoreh to raise balanced children.