It all begins and ends with trust

The sages teach us that a rebellious son is condemned because of how he will turn out. But how is it possible to know he will be evil?

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
INN: Daniel Malichi

The “rebellious son” is a fleeting topic. In the Torah itself we have almost no details about the actions of that son. The sages teach us that by and large it’s the story of a son who steals money from his parents to buy large quantities of meat and wine, and he is killed by Beit Din because his future is that he will steal from and kill people.

The case of the rebellious son raises a question. As is well known, Tshuva - repentance is one of the most important elements in Judaism, and Tshuva even preceded the creation of the world. If so, why are we so sure that the rebellious son will end up committing violence and we do not have faith that he will repent?

The only actual sin attributed to the rebellious son is that "he does not heed the voice of his father and the voice of his mother," meaning that he severed his ties with his parents. The parents are the roots of the son, and they are the ones who connect the son to previous generations and to all of Klal Yisrael. A son who does not heed the voice of his parents, severs ties with them and steals from them, and resembles an unripe fruit being cut from the tree, which will no longer continue to grow and will rot, because it has been cut off from its roots and its oxygen. Thus, a child who "does not heed the voice of his father and the voice of his mother" loses his “oxygen” - his connection to the family and the people of Israel, and therefore has no way to progress and develop. By the way, this is the deeper meaning behind the commandment to honor parents.

And then Rabbi Yoshiya comes along and teaches us a new law. "... a rebellious son who requests forgiveness from his father and mother is forgiven" meaning that if the parents of a rebellious son forgive him, then he is not punished. This seems very confusing; why should his parent’s forgiveness absolve him of punishment?

The answer is that since the root of our lack of faith in the son is his detachment from his parents, if his parents forgive him that means that there is still a connection! Although the child may have severed ties with his parents, the parents have not severed ties with him, so the parents' energy and vitality continue to flow to the child, and the son is still connected to his roots, to his family and to his nation, and there is faith and expectation that he will repent and return.

We learn from this an important principle in education. Even if a child may unfortunately stray from the proper path, we as parents are never allowed to break away from him. As long as we have faith in our child, and understand that all his sins and rebelliousness are just external and a disguise then we are able to see the real, righteous and upright child deep inside, and we can keep enriching him with healthy life forces, which will enable him to return when he is ready.

There is a story of a boy who abandoned the correct path and left home. A few years later he decided to repent and return home. He arrived in the middle of the night, not knowing what to expect. To his surprise he discovered that the door of the house was unlocked! The next morning when he reunited with his parents, after all the hugs and tears he told them that it was so lucky for him that they had forgotten to lock the door the night before. They answered him: “Since you left home we have not locked the house at all because we have been waiting for you. We knew you would come back.” Deep down, the parents' trust is what gave the son the opportunity to return.

And from the personal story of the rebellious son, we will move on to the story of all of us. We are all sometimes rebellious sons towards our father and mother – our Father being G-d and mother, the nation of Israel. We often stray from the proper path and sever our connection to G-d, but G-d forgives us and continues to grant us life because He believes in us. Every morning we say “I thank You living and existing King who returned my soul to me in compassion, Great is Your faith.” Although we may have sinned against G-d, He returns our soul to us every day, because He believes in us in spite of everything, and that trust gives us the strength and motivation to repent.

We are all the children of G-d and the children of our parents, and we are also – or, please G-d, will be – parents ourselves. May we always merit to be trustworthy to G-d and our parents and to know how to have the same trust in our children.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol is the head of the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development and the rabbi of Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem community in Modi'in