What a Rebellious Son has to Teach Us
Last week’s parasha discussed the halachote of a Ben Sorer uMore, a rebellious son. The Torah tells us that if a child displays certain awful behaviors, instead of waiting for him to grow-up and become a terrorist, he is sentenced to death. (It should be noted that the Talmud tells us this halacha was never and will never be applicable.) Strangely, however, if the parents of the rebellious son decide to grant their son forgiveness, he is exempted from the death penalty. But how could this be? If this kid is going to grow up to become a terrorist, why should society be at risk based on the whim of the parents?
Rabbi Shmuel Borsztein, the Hasidic master of the Sochatchover Chasidic dynasty, in his magnum opus, Shem MiShmuel, answers that if the parents are willing to accept the challenge of raising their son and loving him, despite all his faults, however many and scary they are, then there is hope. The rebellious son may redeem himself and change the course of his whole life so long as his parents still believe in him. As Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur approach, this message is particularly propitious for us.
No matter how far we’ve sunk, no matter thick the dirt that is caked on our souls, we must never lose hope that we can radically alter our destiny. In order for Teshuvah, repentance, to work for us, we need to believe that it can. As a wise rabbi once said, the only difference between being old and being young is whether you’ve given up or not. If you’ve given up, your old, your rotting, you’ve got one foot in the grave. But if you still have hope, if you believe you can make it, then you’re young, you have more life in you. If we want Hasham to write us in the Book of Life this year, we need to make sure we haven’t written ourselves off first.