Monday, August 31, 2015

492 - Ki Seitzei

The mitzvah regarding the ben sorer u'moreh is extremely unique and a bit difficult to understand. At face value it seems that a thirteen year old boy who is merely found eating and drinking gluttonously is to be put to death. What has he done to deserve such a severe punishment? Chazal fill in numerous details which are not mentioned explicitly in the Torah. Among other details, the boy must be between the ages of thirteen and thirteen and three months. He must eat a specific amount of meat and drink a specific amount of wine in an extremely ravenous manner. Additionally, the food and drink must be bought with money stolen from his parents in order for him to conform to the requirements of a ben sorer u'moreh.

We still have some basic questions. Exactly which commandment did this boy transgress that warrants his receiving a death penalty? Moreover, if what he did was so terrible, why is the time frame for this transgression restricted to three months out of a person's entire life? The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 248) enlightens us to some of the rationale behind this mitzvah. He writes that the ben sorer u'moreh is guilty of transgressing the sin of "lo sochlu al hadam - lit. Do not eat over the blood" (Vayikra 19:26). Based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin (63a), the Chinuch explains that the Torah is exhorting us not to eat a meal that can bring one to spill blood i.e. cause himself to receive the death penalty. (See Ramban to Devarim 21:18 who differs).

He elaborates on the emphasis the Torah places on the boy's gluttonous ingestion of meat and wine. He asserts that excessive eating and drinking leads to the commission of a multitude of aveiros, as the Torah tells us, "Yeshurun became fat and rebelled" (Devarim 32:15). Food nourishes the body and cultivates materialism while reflecting upon mitzvos and yiras shamayim nourishes the soul and cultivates spirituality. Excessive intake of food weakens the "spiritual immune system" of the body which in turn leads to sin. Therefore, the Torah cautions us regarding excessive eating and attaches a death penalty to show the danger and severity of such behavior. However, the Torah specifically directs its message toward the thirteen year old boy who has just reached physical and spiritual maturity. The age when the intensity of adolescence is combined with a new sense of responsibility for one's actions, is the perfect time to hammer home the gravity of such wayward behavior: Don't overindulge. The lesson is taught once to this young boy and it is meant to last a lifetime.

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) comments that while we might have thought that refraining from unnecessary eating is an area of avodas Hashem limited to the pious and righteous, the Chinuch lets us know that this is not the case. This is an idea which must be inculcated into children from a young age: Eating is not an end in and of itself. We are to eat so that we can be healthy and properly serve Hashem. The holiness of mealtime is apparent from the procedure required by Chazal when partaking of food. We must purify ourselves by washing our hands and then we make a bracha before eating. After we conclude our meal, once again we must wash our hands (mayim achronim) to wash away any negative materialistic consequences and once again bless Hashem and thank Him for the food.

Yet, continues Rav Wolbe, there is an even broader lesson to be learned from the Sefer Chinuch. The mitzvah of ben sorer u'moreh gives us an outlook on life in general. We most certainly can partake from the pleasures available to us, but these pleasures should be "pleasures with a purpose." When the pleasure is beneficial to our avodas Hashem, then such pleasure is imperative. However, one who engages in a lifestyle where pleasure becomes the objective, has fallen prey to the "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" dogma of the other nations.

Our eye must always be on our ultimate goal i.e. the next world. Elul is the time to reevaluate our mindsets and lifestyles and properly align them, should there be a need. While the Torah's message was aimed at a thirteen year old, the significance of the message must accompany us throughout our lifetime!

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