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Hear My Voice

August 29, 2020

“They’ll do what you do, not what you say.” It’s one of the clichés of parenting advice; we’ve all heard it, and, at some time, probably even told it to someone else. But while there is certainly truth to this idea, and kids do learn from the way their parents and others around them act, I’m not sure I agree with this quote entirely.

In Parshat Ki Teitzei, we learn of the בן סורר ומורה, the rebellious son. This is a young boy who has committed certain unforgiveable offenses, such as stealing large amounts of money from his parents and purchasing and consuming gluttonous amounts of meat and wine. The Torah teaches that his punishment is a harsh one: the death penalty. “ובערת הרע מקרבך וכל ישראל ישמעו ויראו, and you shall eradicate the evil from your midst, and all of Israel shall hear and shall fear. (Devarim 21:21)” Through dealing with this rebellious son so severely, the rest of the Jewish people will learn to be more careful and choose a better path.

Practically, most Amoraim (Rabbis of the Gemara) are of the opinion that the existence of an actual בן סורר ומורה is an impossibility. “בן סורר ומורה לא היה ולא עתיד להיות, a rebellious son never happened and never will happen. (Gemara Sanhedrin 71A)” So why, then, does the Torah teach us of something that will never occur? The Gemara there explains, “דרוש וקבל שכר, learn about it and receive reward.” Meaning, although this may never actually happen, there is a lot we can learn from its study.

How could this theoretical young boy, according to Chazal just thirteen years of age, fall to such a point that he would commit these terrible transgressions? Perhaps the Torah hints to an answer. This section is introduced as follows:

כי יהיה לאיש בן סורר ומורה איננו שומע בקול אביו ובקול אמו ויסרו אתו ולא ישמע אליהם.

If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they discipline him, but he does not listen to them. (Devarim 21:19)

I have two questions on this verse. Firstly, it seems repetitive. If the son does not listen to his mother or father’s voice, then surely when they discipline him he won’t listen! Why is it necessary to mention that he doesn’t hear his parents’ voices and that he doesn’t listen to their discipline? Isn’t that the same thing?! Secondly, why does it emphasize that he doesn’t listen to the קול, the voice of his father or mother? Seemingly, it could have merely said that he doesn’t listen to his father or mother. Why does it need to add the word קול, not once, but twice?

The word קול,simply translated as voice, actually means something much deeper. Way back in Sefer Bereishit, Yaakov dressed up as his brother Eisav in order to deceive their father Yitzchak. When he approached Yitzchak and asked for a bracha, Yitzchak responded, “הקול קול יעקב והידים ידי עשו, the voice is the voice of Yaakov, and the hands are the hands of Eisav. (Bereishit 27:22)” Why didn’t Yaakov disguise his voice? Shouldn’t that have been part of the plan? Rashi seems to assume that, in fact, Yaakov did disguise his voice to sound like Eisav’s. Yitzchak wasn’t commenting on the sound of the voice, but with the words that he used. Rashi there writes, “שמדבר בלשון תחנונים קום נא אבל עשו קנטוריא דבר יקם אבי, for Yaakov spoke in a respectful and entreating manner, saying, ‘Please rise,’ but Eisav would speak harshly, saying, ‘Father get up.’” Sure, Yaakov could change his voice to imitate the sound of Eisav’s. But to speak with Eisav’s disrespect, callousness, and coarseness? That wasn’t something Yaakov would even consider.

It’s clear from this Rashi that קול doesn’t merely refer to the sound of a voice, but it refers to the way Yaakov spoke, and the way every Jew should strive to speak. הקול קול יעקב, the identifying mark of Yaakov and his descendants is their קול. Speaking like a mensch, using words like please, speaking with patience and respect- when Yitzchak heard this he knew immediately who was speaking.

The Torah teaches us that a בן סורר ומורה happens when a child doesn’t hear the קול of his father and mother. He doesn’t hear them speaking kindly, gently, and respectfully. He hears them talking rudely, angrily, or uncivilly to others, or worse, to each other. And once he hears this, then naturally, the verse continues and teaches, “they will discipline him, but he does not listen to them.”

Of course, a child learns and imitates the ways that his parents act. But he also learns from the way they speak. Not as much from their instructions or lectures, but from the manner in which they speak to all those around them. One who speaks with the קול of Yaakov will be able to educate and raise his children on the proper path. But when, G-d forbid, one doesn’t, the lesson of the בן סורו ומורה is that the results can be devastating.

This week I’m especially thinking of my grandfather, Opa, whose yahrtzeit is this Shabbos (9 Elul). To me, he was a living example of someone who always spoke with the קול of Yaakov. I don’t remember him ever speaking with anything less than genuine respect for the other. I remember many of the words and lessons he said, but even more powerfully I remember the way that he said them.

We live in a time when the art of speaking pleasantly, respectfully, and like a mentsch seems like a lost art. I often find myself stunned by the inappropriate words people use, the way some speak or write about those with whom they disagree, and the rudeness with which some people express themselves. Let’s remember who we are. הקול קול יעקב, the voice is the voice of Yaakov. One of the greatest gifts that we can give to our children, and truly to the entire world, is to model for them, and remind them, what it means to speak like a mentsch.

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Fox

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Shevat 5781