Rebellious Child: Torah's Tips for Facing Challenge

Rebellious Child: Torah's Tips for Facing Challenge

angry aggressive teen pointing finger illustrating Bible story of the rebellious childStoning of the rebellious child.

Holy One of Blessing! Help us understand why this text is in your Torah.

You created human beings to be lifelong learners. To keep us learning, you fill our lives with problems. To guide us through challenge, you send us challenging words.

Like this passage in Deuteronomy:

If a man has a wayward and defiant son, who does not heed his father or mother and does not obey them even after they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the public place of his community. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is disloyal and defiant; he does not heed us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Thereupon the men of his town shall stone him to death. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst; all Israel will hear and be afraid (Deut. 21:18-21, Parshat Ki Tetze).

All your learned commentators agree. This is a bad way to deal with a problem child. You do not actually want us to label, shame, or execute teens. Your people do not want to do this. And they never have.

What are you teaching us through your parable of the rebellious child?

Perhaps you are teaching us about language. We should not describe ourselves, our problems, or our antagonists with vague inflammatory words. Instead, let’s clearly identify our expectations.

Maybe you are reminding us to seek support. Some problems are too big for one person to solve. Turn to partners, elders, communities. Before the problem gets out of hand.

Possibly you are calling us to pay attention. All Israel will hear and be afraid — so says the translator. But the Hebrew word “fear” is close to the word “see.” Most likely you mean all Israel should hear and see. Listen deeply. Look with fresh eyes. Reframe the situation.

Holy One, you know our hearts. You know the challenges we face. Life is confusing. More puzzling than the parable of the rebellious child.

Help us find the guideposts. See the positive. Learn from you. Amen.

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