The Weekly Parsha: A New Dimension

by Rabbi Heshy Grossman

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"If a man has a son who is disobedient and rebellious, who doesn't listen to the voice of his mother and father, they chasten him and he does not obey them. And his father and mother grab hold of him, and bring him out to the elders of the city and to the gate of his place. And they say to the elders of his city, 'This son of ours is disobedient and rebellious, he doesn't obey our voice, he is gluttonous and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him, and he will die, and you will wipe the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear and fear." (Devarim 21,18-20)

The Ben Sorer U'Morer is all of thirteen years old. His inclination towards food and drink seal his fate. Though he has not yet perpetrated crimes of great severity, he is being judged now for the evil he is destined to commit.

Many commentators are puzzled by the distinction between this case and the leniency G-d granted to another rebellious son.

After Yishmael had been banished from the house of Avraham, he lay dying of thirst in the parched desert.

"...And the angel of Hashem called to Hagar from heaven.....Do not fear, for G-d has heard the voice of the lad from where he is." - "B'Asher Hu Sham" (B'reishis 21,17)

The accusing angels stood before Hashem.

"For he whose descendants are destined to kill Your sons with thirst, You will provide a well of water?"

"What is he now, a Tzaddik or Rasha?"

"A Tzaddik"

"According to his present deeds wll I judge him".

"And this is [the meaning of] "B'Asher Hu Sham". (Rashi ad. loc.)

The evil of Yishmael will manifest itself at a later date. The viciousness of his children towards the B'nai Yisrael is the inheritance Yishmael bequeathes to posterity. Yet, since he was personally righteous at the time, Hashem stays the accusing hand of the angels, allowing him to go free. This is quite puzzling. Do we not sentence to death the rebellious son for sins he is destined to commit? Why is Yishmael judged differently?

The Maharal explains.

The judgment of Yishmael takes place in G-d's heavenly court, 'Bais Din Shel Ma'alah', while the Ben Sorer U'Morer is tried by human judges in a court of Torah law. These are two completely different systems.

The communal Bais Din has the right to compel Mitzva observance. (Kesuvos 86) Bais Din Shel Ma'alah, on the other hand, allows man the freedom to pursue his evil inclination.

In our shiur we shall elaborate upon this idea, describing the nature of the Heavenly Court we will approach on the upcoming Day of Judgment.


The rabbinic Bais Din has the mandate to carry out the dictates of Torah law. Their decisions are referred to as 'Hora'ah', literally, teaching.

This sheds light on the very nature of 'Torah', as well as the role of its rabbinic guardians. All Torah has the function of teaching, directing man to the ultimate path of good. It is for this reason that Bais Din punishes the rebellious son, before it's too late. The task of Bais Din is to stamp out evil. The penalties they impose serve as atonement for sin, enabling the violator to have his slate wiped clean. It is to the benefit of the Ben Sorer U'Morer to pay now, rather than face the Bais Din Shel Ma'alah with evil on his hands.

The Court of Heaven, on the other hand, is 'Nosein Reshus' - 'grants permission'. (Maharal, Gur Aryeh) Man can do evil if he chooses, and heaven does not interfere. The role of Bais Din Shel Ma'alah is not to stamp out sin, nor is it to teach man the ways of Torah. It merely passes judgment on the freely performed actions of man. Man can do what he wishes. Afterwards, he must pay the price.

There is one other important distinction between these two courts.

How is it that the rebellious son is punished for sins he has not yet committed? Is it not possible that he will repent? Though he has begun to travel on the path of no return, haven't we learned that the gates of Tshuvah are always open?

Apparently, Tshuvah is irrelevant in the eyes of Bais Din.

It is of no use for man to stand before Bais Din and say, 'I'm sorry'. Remorse is meaningless where restitution is required.

In contrast, the court of G-d waits patiently for man to repent, holding punishment at bay in anticipation of true Tshuvah. For this reason, the young Yishmael is spared. His future is still in doubt. He has the freedom to rectify his crimes.

We have mentioned two areas of distinction, that of freedom as opposed to coercion, and repentance as opposed to restitution. If we take a deeper look, it will become clear that these two differences are actually one.


"Tov V'Yashar Hashem, Al Kein Yoreh Chataim Badarech." - "G-d is good and just, therefore He teaches sinners the way." (Tehillim 25,8)

"Chachmah was asked: 'What is the punishment of a sinner?'

"A sinner will be pursued by evil" (Mishlei 13, 21)

"Nevuah was asked: 'What is the punishment of a sinner?'

"The one who sins will be executed" (Yechezkel 18, 20)

HaKadosh Baruch Hu was asked: 'What is the punishment of a sinner?'

He said: 'Let him do Tshuvah and find atonement' (Yerushalmi, Makkos, 2, 6)

G-d alone reveals to the world the existence of Tshuvah. From all logical perspective, repentance should be impossible. If man has committed an act of evil, how can he wipe the slate clean? Once the act has been performed, it has a place in reality. Does regret make the deed disappear?

Let us therefore explain how Tshuvah works.

The gemara records an incident taught by the Rebbe of Tshuvah, R. Elazar ben Durdaya. After committing some of the lowliest types of sins, a certain incident impelled him to repent. The Maharal interprets his name as indicating the precise nature of his repentance.

'Elazar' - G-d helped. 'ben Durdaya' - from the dregs. After sinking to the depths of degradation, R. Elazar suddenly realizes the futility of his ways.

It is the sin itself that is the catalyst for true Tshuvah.

It is incumbent upon man to clearly recognize the truth of G-d's law and the justice of His command. There are two ways that this can occur.

If man is totally righteous, his positive outlook and elevated perch grant him an insight that others can't see. He is personally aware of the benefits derived by he who leads a good and moral life.

If, on the other hand, he decides to ignore the will of G-d, choosing a path of evil and rebellion, he ultimately learns the very same lesson, albeit the hard way.

All evil comes to a dead end. It cannot be maintained forever. At some point, man realizes that the suffering he endures is self-imposed. Whether it be unrequited dreams, or empty pleasures that never quite measure up to the anticipation, he sees that sin has ruined his life.

He now has a deeper, and more lasting, understanding of right and wrong. After experiencing the hardship that evil has wrought, he cannot make the same mistake again. He knows that sin is wrong and of no benefit.

This is the very reason that Hashem allowed evil into existence.

In order to understand an object properly, defining it clearly in one's mind, man must distinguish each item from those that surround it. Clearly, righteous deeds serve to reveal the world of good. What is less understood, is that evil also teaches the same truth. This is because sin enables man to distinguish good from evil, providing a deeper perspective on the nature of the good itself.

Hashem did not permit evil so that man should sin. On the contrary, the decadence of sin is designed to repel man back to the Mitzvos that he abandoned. This is the literal meaning of Tshuvah, return. It is not mere regret that can rectify his evil past. It is only the fulfillment of G-d's plan for creation that signifies true repair. The man who learns from his mistake has utilized sin to deepen his relationship with Hashem. In a sense, his deed is considered to be a Mitzva, for it eventually serves to reveal the will of G-d.

Let us now clarify our main point.

Hashem has provided man with true freedom of choice. For this reason, the heavenly court cannot punish Yishmael, though he is destined for horrible wickedness. Though his crimes are many, Bechirah entails the ability to completely transform one's self at any time. He is not limited by the laws of cause and effect that normally bind one's future to a predetermined outcome. Yishmael can theoretically do Tshuvah.

This is something that the angels cannot grasp. They know only of G-d's command. Hashem reveals that evil as well, plays a role in the purpose of creation, making possible the Tshuvah and Bechirah that reveal a deeper perspective of reality.

It is G-d that pulls R. Elazar ben Durdaya from the dregs. The evil that he sinks to is endowed by Hashem with a place in existence. Ultimately, man recoils from its grimy clutch, driven back to the path of Torah that is G-d's true desire.


"HaKol Tzafui, V'Ha'reshus Nesunah, U'V'Tov HaOlam NaDon...."

"Everything is foreseen, and freedom of choice is given, yet the world is judged towards goodness" (Avos 3, 18)

We have explained that the function of Bais Din Shel Matah is to carry out the Torah's dictates, actualizing the D'var Hashem and stamping out evil. For this reason, Bais Din has the authority to enforce Mitzvah observance.

The jurisdiction of Bais Din Shel Ma'alah, however, seems to be quite different, "HaReshus Nesunah". Evil is given free rein. If so, the Maharal asks, how can we say "U'V'Tov HaOlam NaDon" - "The world is judged towards goodness"? If man has freedom to follow the road of iniquity, can it be certain that morality will prevail?

It is this very point that we have endeavored to explain.

Evil has no staying power. It is destined to destroy itself. The sinner's consistent missteps lead him to desperation and confusion. He gradually saps the heavenly strength and energy that is the basis of all life.

It is the very possibility of evil, then, that is the guarantee of its early demise. We can safely say that precisely because "HaReshus Nesunah", therefore, "U'V'Tov HaOlam NaDon". One who partakes of the bitter fruit of temptation is left only with a sour aftertaste. Once this truth is recognized, the world will spit out the evil that offered nothing but illusion.

Freedom of choice and Tshuvah are two sides of the same coin. Man is destined to reveal that the choice is one-sided. When the battlefield clears, the reality of G-d's will is the only option left standing.


On Rosh HaShanah we stand before the Heavenly Court with one hundred Shofar blasts. It is the same Shofar that we hear throughout the month of Elul, awakening us to repentance and facilitating the transition to the Aseres Yemei Tshuvah.

The Torah refers to the Shofar as 'Yovel', as in "B'Mshoch HaYovel Heimah Ya'alu B'Har". (Shmos 19,13) It was with the sound of the Shofar that Klal Yisrael stood at the foot of Har Sinai, recipients of the Torah that silences all dissension.

"Yovel" is freedom, the jubilee year wherein everything and everybody are returned to the place where they belong. It is the year all slaves are released, never again to be subject to outside domination.

On Yom HaDin we blow our own Shofar of freedom, reminding ourselves that in the Bais Din Shel Ma'alah all evil dissolves. With that beautiful sound we return to our rightful place, free from the sin that dominates our lives, keenly aware that no option is more rewarding than G-d's outstretched Hand. Any questions or comments? Please address them to grossman

Have a good Shabbos!

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