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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Ki Setzei 5772 "The Greatest Gift"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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“The greatest gift you can give your child is the love you give your spouse! The harmony and security created in a home that contains peace and harmony is the most nurturing environment for a child.

“At times, my children have asked me, “Totty (Father), who do you love more, me or Mommy?” Without hesitation I answer, “What’s the question; Mommy, of course!” The child then usually grins because he appreciates that response, and he intuitively feels that it is correct.

“I remember once sitting at a Sheva Berachos[1] while one of the speakers was describing the bliss and beauty of marriage in very glowing and enamoring terms. It turned my stomach because I felt - as I often do - that people mislead a new bride and groom about what marriage is really about. A famous Rosh Yeshiva was sitting next to me and he whispered to me, “Get up and tell them the truth!”

“On one occasion I indeed got up to speak and said, “Rabbosai![2] The truth is that marriage is hard work! From beginning until the end, and all the time in between, it’s hard work. The sooner one embraces and comprehends that fact, the sooner one can develop genuine love and happiness. But if one enters a marriage naively thinking that all will be blissful and fantastical, there is something inherently wrong with the fabric of that marriage.

“Of course marriage can be wonderful and sublime but only when it is bound to effort and work. Hard work and devotion brings love and goodness; romance is nonsense and void. Real love only increases and improves the longer one is married. At the wedding, spouses do not truly love each other, though they may think they do. It takes a lot of work before one can achieve a true level and experience of love.”[3]

The passage about the Ben Sorrer U’moreh, the rebellious and wayward son, is one of the most unusual passages in the Torah. In order to properly comprehend the laws regarding the Ben Sorrer U’moreh, there are two points that must be understood. Firstly, the death penalty that is imposed on the child is not because of the gravity of the sins he has committed, but because, based on his behavior up to this point, the Torah guarantees that he will degenerate into a terrible person as he ages[4].

The second point is that there are so many precise requirements necessary in order to declare a child a Ben Sorer Umoreh that it is virtually impossible for such a scenario to ever evolve. The commentators explain that this passage is only recorded in the Torah as an implied primer for parents on how to - and how not to - inculcate values and morals into their children.

The verse says that the parents will bring their son to the elders of the city and declare before them, “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; aynenu shomaya b’kolaynu - he does not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” The word “kolaynu- our voice” is written in the singular, our voice, rather than the plural, our voices. This suggests that the two parents speak with a single voice, agreeing on all issues regarding their rambunctious son.

A few verses earlier however, it says, “He does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother.[5]” Here two separate voices are mentioned, implying that there is disharmony and discord between them.

Rabbi Dovid Feinstein shlita[6] suggests that a child is more likely to be defiant regarding issues he knows his parents disagree about. He is intuitive enough to realize the discord between them in those matters and he will capitalize on it and exacerbate their disagreement to his benefit. When the child develops into a deviant and defiant youth, it will then become clear that the lack of unity between the parents was at the root of the child’s waywardness. Even though they will then realize that they must develop a united front, it may be too late to repair the irrevocable damage that their discord bred. At that point, it may become necessary for them to seek outside guidance in order to rectify the situation.

The Commentators note that this idea is also alluded to in the peculiar requirement that in order for the child to be deemed a Ben Sorrer U’moreh both parents must have similar voices. In other words they must speak to him with a united front and not contradict each other in regard to their expectations of their children. Consistency and constancy are two of the most important components in the development of a vibrant home.

To create a stable marriage, one needs patience, devotion, and an uncompromising will to make it work. For two different people with diverse viewpoints and ideas about everything to build a home together is virtually impossible without that commitment (and a dose of Divine Assistance). Our Sages teach that the ultimate purpose of marriage is to perfect ourselves through self-sacrifice. The irony is that when we force ourselves to be selfless we benefit most from it, psychologically and spiritually.

When I was engaged, one of the Rabbeim in Yeshiva candidly commented that at every stage of his married life he thought he knew what love meant. “When I got married I thought I loved my wife. But then, after I was married for a year I mocked what I thought was love. I was convinced that after being married a year, I had discovered what love meant. When I was married for five years I made the same observation and thought that at that point I had surely reached the pinnacle of true love. But a few years later I made the same observation, and then a few years later I did so again. I hope Hashem will help me continue to discover what genuine love means for as long as I live.”

All of the jokes and jest surrounding marriage essentially stem from our natural selfishness. Marriage, which forces us to look beyond ourselves, challenges our narcissistic nature and therefore makes us feel uncomfortable.

It is well-known that while delivering a eulogy at the funeral of his esteemed wife, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurebach zt’l emphatically stated that he is not asking his wife for forgiveness because he is certain that they both have nothing to ask each other forgiveness for. It was a mind-boggling statement that after being married for so many decades and going through life together he still was confident that he did not need to ask her forgiveness “just in case”.

I once read that when someone recounted those words to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman’s son, Rabbi Shmuel Aurebach shlita, Rabbi Shmuel was quick to add that no one should think that his parents did not argue. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman was a very strong-minded person and on occasion he would voice his views and opinions very emphatically. The greatness of his parents was that, despite their differences, they never (!) belittled each other or allowed their disagreements to become personal.

“He does not hearken to our voice.”

“What’s the question; Mommy, of course!”

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Please have in mind Chaim Yisroel Pinchos ben Shaindel for a refuah shaleimah.

[1] one of the joyous meals celebrated during the week after a marriage

[2] my masters

[3] [From a lecture by Rabbi Shimon Russel L.C.S.W. in Lakewood, N.J., delivered on May 22, 2006, entitled “Creating and Preserving harmony in the home”]

[4] “The wayward and rebellious son is put to death because of his end…Let him die while he is innocent and let him not die when he is guilty of committing capitol crimes.” (Sanhedrin 72a).

[5] 21:18

[6] Kol Dodi

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