To the Matchmaker

The dramatic thing about this story is that it starts with an oath. Abraham causes Eliezer to swear that he will not bring a Canaanite bride to Isaac.

Why was such an oath necessary? Eliezer was Abraham's servant. Servants are supposed to follow orders without having to swear about everything. Secondly, why does Abraham not cause him to swear that he will bring back a wife from Abraham's family in Mesopotamia? The emphasis of the oath is on Eliezer NOT bringing back a Canaanite girl! Why the negative?

Finally, fundamentally, why was Abraham so opposed to a Canaanite girl? Eliezer himself had a daughter who was of the right age. It stands to reason that she was a very good girl, considering who her father was an in what house she had grown up. The reason given by the rabbis is that the Canaanites are the descendents of Ham, who was cursed by Noah. Abraham is the descendent of Shem, who was blessed by Noah. "Blessed should not cleave to cursed."

The Or Hachaim puts words to this argument. After all, he reasons, Abraham was blessed. He was given the ability to confer that blessing upon others, and all that are in his family are recipients of blessing. Shouldn't all of this blessing be enough to negate the curse of Noah?

Furthermore, Abraham's family in Mesopotamia are no great shakes. We are talking about idolaters and cheaters. In fact, according to the midrash, Rebecca's father Betuel dies by ingesting poison that he had intended for Eliezer! Rebecca's brother, Laban, is a legendary manipulator who harbors ill intentions towards Jacob and his family. Are these people really a better source for a wife for Isaac than the family of Eliezer, faithful servant of Abraham?

The answers to these two questions are foundational for every matchmaker. The first question, why was Eliezer tasked and not Isaac himself, can be answered by a clichéd but true fact: no two people are created alike. Every single is their own unique personality. Isaac, as can be seen throughout his life, is a passive person. He is a great Tsaddik, but he does not innovate or initiate. Therefore, Abraham does not trust him to find his own partner.

In relationships, there are different dynamics. Some seek a parental figure, while others look for someone whom they can nurture. Still others are looking for a sibling or a friend or a playmate. There are many nuances in relationship seeking, but these are the main categories. Isaac, as a more passive person, would naturally gravitate towards a motherly figure. This is born out by the Torah, which reports that "Isaac brought her into his tent, he loved her, and was comforted after his mother."

As a side note, we should note that Isaac loved Rebecca only after he brought her into his tent. Love, in this verse, is a verb. It is not something that one "falls into." It is, instead, something one must do to succeed. Attraction is like the sign outside of a restaurant. It'll get you in, but what you order on the menu will either leave you happy or sick to your stomach. The success of a matches dependent on what happens after the canopy, not before.

This understanding of the importance of each individual's psychological and emotional makeup points us to the answer to the second series of questions. In short, ideology can be changed fairly easily. Character, however, cannot.

The Canaanites were cursed because of the character of their grandfather, Ham. His was a character of selfishness, lack of responsibility and lack of concern for others. A normal child, upon seeing his father in a degraded state, would rush to restore his father's dignity. Ham, on the other hand, not only failed to do so, but (according to a midrash) sterilized his father! To be capable of such an action one must have a deep corruption in one's basic character. That is the source of the curse, and that is the character trait that exhibited itself in Ham's descendents who dwelled in Sodom and Gomorrah.

So while it is possible that a Canaanite can be an exemplary citizen, there is no guarantee that good character will survive to the next generation. And, considering that Isaac is a more passive person who needs a mother figure, it could be Isaac who becomes corrupted rather than the bride who becomes inspired.

So Abraham understood that ideology can be changed easily. The idolatry of his family did not concern him, since he knew that kindness was deep-rooted. Even though Betuel and Laban were no great paragons of virtue, they were the exceptions in the family. What's more, it is eminently possible that their opposition to the family of Abraham is born of their fear of Abraham's monotheistic faith threatening their comfortable idolatrous lifestyle. They weren't bad people, but they did bad things out of a sense of panic.

And, at the end of the day, they enable the match of Isaac and Rebecca as well as the future matches of Jacob, Rachel and Leah.

The medrash tells us that when Isaac brought Rebecca home, four things happened. Four things that had been present when Sara was alive and disappeared with her death, returned with the entrance of Rebecca. There was a cloud on the tent, there was a blessing in the dough, the doors were always wide open, and a candle was lit from the eve of the Sabbath to the next eve of the Sabbath. What do these four things mean?

The cloud symbolizes the Divine Presence. This rested upon the tent as long as three crucial things were in place. My teacher, Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik, explains these three things. 1. The home had to be one of mercy. The Sabbath is a day of peace, a day of living together in harmony. When the Torah prohibits fire on the Sabbath day, the Rabbi's comment that this includes the fires of fighting an argument. This is what it means by the candle being lit from Sabbath to Sabbath, meaning that the spirit of peace of the Sabbath pervades the entire week. This comes from the character trait of mercy. 2. The home has to be one of modesty. The sages tell us that the one who is truly wealthy is the one who is happy with his lot. This is what it means by a blessing being in the dough. The family feels blessed with whatever it is they have. This is the character trait of modesty. 3. The home has to be one where kindness is prevalent. The sages tell us that we are to always have our houses open for the relief of those who are in need. This is what it means by the doors being open all the time. This comes from the character trait of kindness.

These character traits are the opposite of the heritage of Ham, Canaan, and the Sodomites. Abraham teaches every matchmaker that interests and ideology may be an external factor in a match, but the true energy lies in compatible character traits. "The way of the world (good character) comes before Torah," say our sages.

The most important relationship

There are two Rebukes in the Torah. The first one, at the end of the book of Leviticus, is read on the penultimate Sabbath before the holiday of Shavuot. It is limited in scope and structured in groups of seven. There are seven levels of transgression listed at the beginning, and God repeats variations on the phrase, "if you shall be contrary, I will torment you sevenfold for all of your sins," seven times.

That Rebuke concludes with a prophecy of redemption. "I will remember the covenant of your forefathers…"

The one in Deuteronomy, however, begins with one general sin: "And if you do not listen to the voice of the Lord your God to guard and to do the commandments and rules which I command you this day…" As the frightening descriptions of what will befall the people should they reject the Torah continue, there is no further reference to Israel sinning or to a sevenfold punishment as retribution for those sins. It is simply a chaotic mix of calamity after calamity. There is disease, there is war, there is famine and drought. On and on it goes, and when we get to the end of it, there is no optimistic final note. "God will return you to Egypt and you will be sold as slaves there to your enemies yet no one will purchase you."

Why these differences from the first Rebuke? And how is this an appropriate preparation for Rosh Hashanah?

Immediately prior to the Rebuke, the Israelites are commanded to make a pilgrimage to the area of Shechem where the twin Mountains of Gerizim and Eval are located. Half of the tribes are to ascend Mount Gerizim and the other half are to ascend Mount Eval. The Levites are then to recite the blessings and the curses resulting from observance or nonobservance of the Torah which the people are to affirm.

Now, the Israelites entered the land from the East and were quite some distance from Shechem. There are plenty of locations where two adjacent mountains could serve the purpose much closer to where the nation was camped. Why make them make the journey into the heartland for this ceremony when they will need to return to the Jordan Valley the very same day?

The answer to all of these questions lies in the three main relationships that every Jew must have: 1. To God. 2. To the Land of Israel. 3. To each other – the Jewish nation. When one or more of these relationships are lacking, bad things happen. But not all bad things are created equal, and not all of these relationships are of equal influence on the others.

Many commentaries view the two Rebukes as referring to the two destructions of Jerusalem and the Temple. Our rabbis tell us that because the sins of the first Temple period were known explicitly, their punishment was made explicit and finite. That exile lasted only 70 years, similar to the first Rebuke which has a clear beginning and end.

What were the sins that led to that first destruction? Our sages tell us that they were idolatry, bloodshed, and sexual corruption and adultery. The Torah itself implies that violation of the Sabbatical Year was a sin which brought about exile. Other teachings of the rabbis point to a cessation of learning and a disrespect of Torah scholars.

All of these things imply a rupture in our relationship to God (the idolatry and dismissal of Torah study) and to the Land of Israel (profaning of the sabbatical year). With all of these things, it seems that Jewish peoplehood remained intact. Although the people were sinning, they were still proudly Jewish and did not turn their backs on each other. (The sin of bloodshed may be referring to the assassination of Gedalia or other high profile murders that did not reflect a general abandonment of Israeli nation.)

The second Rebuke, which parallels the destruction of the second Temple, implies a violation of the third critical relationship of the Jew, his membership in Israel. This is a much more serious offense. If the people are still united, there is always hope that they will repent their sins against God and His Land. If they are not, if their identity becomes erased, how will they ever return?

Why did the Israelites have to go all the way to Shechem for the blessings and curses? One Rabbi suggests that it was to follow in the footsteps of Abraham who went to "The place of Shechem" upon his entry to the land. I would like to suggest that they went to the area where Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery. This was the scene of the greatest moment of Jewish disunity, an event that would spiritually haunt the people well into the future.

When Jews do not have each other, they also do not have God or their Land. They are left to the vagaries of a hostile and uncivilized world. The second Rebuke is random, terrifying, unending.

But there is a small light at the end. "You will be offered for sale to your enemies, yet no one will purchase you." A Jew may seek to forget his Jewishness and exchange his nationhood for some other nationality. God is telling us that such an abandonment can never succeed. "They will not buy you." The Jew can never become a full Spaniard, Frenchman, Russian, Englishman or even American. He will remain a Jew, and because of that he will never lose hope to reconnect and be restored.

Perhaps this is why the first Rebuke in Leviticus is phrased in the plural tense. The Rebuke of Deuteronomy is addressed to the individual. If he has cut himself off from his people, he is all alone. But when we are together, no matter how bad the moment, we can quickly return to "The covenant of the forefathers."

The secret of Rosh Hashanah is reestablishing relationships. The most important of those is our relationship with our nation and our Jewish identity. When we fix that, the sages tell us that "the previous year and all of its curses shall end, and a new year with all of its blessings shall commence!"

Take the incense test

Two things would happen to the Levite guard who fell asleep on watch. He would be beaten by a stick and his clothing would be burnt. The latter punishment is a unique one! Why burn his clothing?

Korach, a wealthy and influential Levite, rebels against Moses and Aaron. He gathers around him 250 members of the tribes of Levy and Reuben to support him in his attack on Moses. They complained that,"The entire congregation is holy so why do you raise yourselves up above them?" In other words, Korach is seeking the high priesthood and his 250 cohorts are seeking the right to serve in the Tabernacle as Kohanim, even though they are not.

Moses then instructs them all to bring incense as a test to determine the justice of their argument. He warns the people of an additional punishment, a miracle involving the earth opening up and swallowing Korach and his immediate partners Datan and Aviram, should God deem their rebellion to be false. The end result was that Korach, his family and his friends, were indeed swallowed up. At the same time the 250 men who had brought the incense in hopes of gaining the status of Kohanim were consumed by fire and died.

The people then complain that Moses has killed God's people! Some commentaries explain that Moses was culpable because he did not warn the 250 incense bringers that doing so carried with it the danger of death. Moses had warned Korach about the earth opening, so why not warn the 250 about the fire that may come from the incense?

God is displeased with this accusation against Moses and smites the people with a plague. Moses immediately dispatches Aaron with incense, the same material, which then stops the plague and saves the rest of the people's lives.

Why, though, is their claim incorrect? Why did Moses not warn the 250 people? Maybe some of them would have refrained from bringing the incense and thus been saved.

Furthermore, one could ask what exactly was wrong with 250 people wanting to be Kohanim? They saw their brothers serving in the Tabernacle performing holy tasks and wanted to have the same opportunity! They desired sanctity, it would seem.

The question centers around the role of the Temple incense in this whole story. The first time we encounter the danger of bringing unauthorized incense was back in Leviticus when Nadav and Avihu died while bringing "a strange fire which was not commanded them." They brought incense. The people saw that incense brought improperly can bring punishment by fiery death. That was their warning. The 250 people should have known that what happened to Nadav and Avihu would happen to them.

And it is the same incense which Aaron used to stop the plague and to save lives. So what is the nature of this incense?

It has a few qualities worth noting. First of all, it is silent. It communicates through aroma, not through words and speeches. Our sages teach us that the incense atoned for evil speak. "Let something which is quiet atone for a sin which is committed in whispers." The incense gives expression to what is happening on the inside of a person, not just the outside.

Secondly, the incense has the aspect of unity. It is not made of one aromatic spice but rather 11 ingredients. Some of them are bitter on their own but add sweetness when combined with others. Our sages compare the galbanum spice to the sinners of Israel who, nonetheless, must join together with all of their nation to create the sweetest aroma. The incense represents unity.

Unity comes about when each individual does not look at him or herself as important because of who they are but because of what they do in the world. When elections come around, some candidates spend time and money telling you how qualified and smart they are. Others will focus more on what they plan to do. Does somebody want to be president, or do they want to lead the nation? Those are two separate things and that is a critical question.

When we focus on who we are as opposed to what we do, we create the conditions that lead to great division. Identity should come through actions and contributions to the world, not through ethnicity or social status or association or any external factor. If I am important for who I am, then others who are similar to me become a threat. Notice how Korach does not say "Let us be Kohanim as well!" Instead, he says "Why should you exalt yourself above the congregation?" Moses and Aaron should step down is what he is saying.

This is what the incense tests. Nadav and Avihu were exceedingly holy and their sin was that they knew it and sought to cement that status by bringing their own unique incense. The incense destroyed them. The 250 Kohain wannabes were not seeking the opportunity to do holy work, they were seeking the status of being Kohanim. The incense revealed what was inside them and destroyed them.

This is why the clothing of the sleepy Levite would be burned. If he were truly committed to honoring God by providing honor guard for the Sanctuary, he would never allow himself to doze. If he is just interested in the honor himself, then his clothing symbolizes that. That is why it gets burned: to teach him that it is not who he is that matters but rather what he does.

When a person is focused on doing good they will rejoice when others do good as they do. There will be unity. When they focus on being important, they will feel threatened and resentful towards other people deemed important. When we focus on contribution, not identity, we will contribute unity to the world.

The magical character button

Take, for example, the perplexing story of the Israelite midwives. Pharaoh gave them an order to put to death every male child that was born. The midwives disobeyed him and kept the boys alive as well. When Pharaoh confronted them, they gave him an excuse: "The Israelite women are very lively, and before the midwife arrives, they have already given birth!" Pharaoh realizes that working through the midwives will not do the job, so the issues a general order that all male children must be thrown into the river.

I find this story completely confusing. First of all, how do the midwives have the nerve to give such a lame answer to Pharaoh? Granted that they were prepared to risk their lives and not kill the males, but what kind of excuse is this? Why didn't Pharaoh simply respond that they should kill the male babies when they find them? Further, why did Pharaoh accept such insubordination? He held the power of life and death over the Israelites, or so he thought, so why didn't he punish the midwives?

The ease with which the Israelites had access to Pharaoh and could openly debate Pharaoh's policy towards them with him directly is also amazing! Moses, Aaron, the representatives of the Israelites all seem to have free run of the palace! One could never imagine such a thing in World War II Germany.

A further question. What was Pharaoh's goal of having the male children killed? If he sought to limit the growth of the Israelite population, as implied in the verses which stress just how fruitful Israel was, he should've had the female children eliminated. After all, one male could impregnate many females, so killing the male children is less effective. If here and there, a male child was missed, the Israelites would continue to multiply in any case. Not so if the girls were killed.

One more question, and then we will try to answer them all. After the Israelites are liberated, and after they have received the Torah, there are a number of Commandments relating to the various nations that have oppressed us. First and foremost, is the commandment to eradicate the memory of Amalek. Then, we are enjoined to not despise the Edomite, "for he is your brother."

But one contrast seems to be striking. Regarding the Ammonites and Moabites, the Torah tells us to not allow them to join our people ever. Why? Because they did not bring out water and bread to us as we traveled through the wilderness. Regarding Egypt, however, we have an opposite approach. "Do not despise the Egyptian, for you were a guest in his land." What? What kind of hospitality was that? Decades upon decades of bitter servitude? And what kind of crime did the Ammonites and Moabites commit? It seems that what they did was far worse than the Egyptians! How can this be?

Our rabbis, perhaps in response to this question, tell us a story about Pharaoh's intentions regarding the Israelite males. His fortunetellers had informed him that a savior had been born to the Israelites. This savior would liberate them from Egyptian slavery and lead them out of the country. Pharaoh was not prepared to allow this to happen, so he ordered all of the males to be killed. In this way, he hoped that that savior would be among those eliminated.

From all of the above questions, I have come to a possible explanation. It is that the Egyptians were not "anti-Semitic," and did not hate the Israelites in the least. Allow me to explain.

I believe there are three kinds of jealousy in the world. The worst kind is one where the jealous individual despises the object of his jealousy and wishes him every harm. This is what Cain did to Abel. The best kind of jealousy is where the jealous individual wishes to learn from the example of the object of his jealousy and thus improve himself. In rabbinical literature, this is called "Jealousy of the scribes," which simply causes the jealous individual to become ever more scholarly.

But there is a middle kind of jealousy, not hatred, but not love and admiration either. It is when the jealous person wishes to subordinate the object of their jealousy to their own ambitions. Think of a hostile corporate takeover as opposed to a smear campaign.

I believe that Pharaoh and his Egyptian leadership possessed this kind of jealousy. They wanted Egypt to be the most powerful and successful empire in the world but were jealous of the remarkable success of the Hebrews. They held no hatred towards them, which makes sense in the context of what Joseph had done in saving Egypt. Nonetheless, they did not wish to befriend them or learn from them. They wished to harness their uniqueness for their own aims.

If this is true, we can understand the initial reluctance of Pharaoh to simply order the execution of the Jewish male babies. He told the midwives, in typical Mafia fashion, "Make it look like an accident." Make sure that the male babies are not successfully born, prevent the necessary life-saving actions during childbirth and let the babies die by themselves. To this, the midwives responded that by the time they got to the Israelite women, they had already given birth. Pharaoh had never ordered them to actually actively kill the babies. The Hebrew term used is "cause them to die." The words for kill and murder are not the same.

Pharaoh's obsession with a hostile takeover of the Israelites also explains why he wanted the male children eliminated. In the ancient world, certainly, it was the males who determine the identity of the family. If the girls would be killed, the Israelite males would then marry Egyptian girls and thus convert them to the Israelite way of life. If the boys were gone, then all that would be left were the girls who would then be married by Egyptians, guaranteeing their complete assimilation. That, after all, was Pharaoh's goal. He preferred the neater method of making it look like an accident, but when push came to shove, he ordered the boys thrown into the river.

(In a side point, our sages teach us that the stories of the book of Genesis foretell what would befall the descendants of the patriarchs in later generations. When Abraham and Sarah descended to Egypt because of a famine, Abraham requested that Sarah proclaim herself his sister instead of his wife. He was afraid that if they knew that he was her husband, they would kill him and take her away. Indeed, when she said that Abraham was her brother, that did save his life. She was then taken to be Pharaoh's wife. In a sense, this was the new Pharaoh's goal as well. Eliminate the potential husbands, and take the girls to be the Egyptian wives.)

There is a test written into the commandments to see whether we are truly free of both negative kinds of jealousy. The great sage Rabbi Akiva claimed that the essence of the Torah was the commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Somebody with one of the two negative jealousies will be incapable of fulfilling that commandment. Certainly, if they hate their competitor it will be impossible. But even if they simply view the person as a competitor, while they may not hate them, they will not be able to love them. Only one who views a competitor as a teacher will be able to observe this law.

Imagine you have a button which, when pressed, will grant your "competitor" immediate excellence and success. Would you be able to press that button? I'm not talking about a case where your competitor is seeking to put you out of business. I'm talking about a case where you both are simply doing your business and trying your best. Would you help your competitor? If your interest is to learn how to continually improve, you will press that button with gusto and then ask your competitor how he or she made it to the next level.

Now we can understand the difference between the Egyptians, on the one hand, and the Ammonites and Moabites on the other. The former were not haters. Yes, they were jealous, and they got punished for it. But they did not seek to destroy, only to subsume. But the Ammonites and Moabites refused to bring water and bread to a thirsty and suffering mass of humanity only from hatred. As a result, their character invalidates them from future entry to the nation of kindness, the nation of Israel.

The commandment that never was

The rabbis of the Talmud debated whether this commandment was actually a reality, or simply a theoretical. Rabbi Yehuda says that there never was, and never will be, an instance of the Rebellious Son. Why, then, was it written? The famous answer, "Inquire into it, and receive your reward." In other words, since the study of the Torah brings with it reward, here is another mitzvah to study for more reward.

One could ask why we need an impossible Commandment to study? You could say "Inquire into it and receive your reward" about all of the commandments of the Torah! Further, with an introduction like that, I would expect there to be volumes upon volumes of exegesis on this topic of the Rebellious Son. There aren't. There is one short chapter in the tractate Sanhedrin, just a few pages.

In a lighter way, one could explain the instruction to "inquire into it" to mean "extract so many requirements for a guilty verdict from nuances in the biblical text so as to make an actual case of this completely impossible." Indeed, here are the requirements that our sages extrapolate from these verses:

The parents must be of the same height and have the same voice. They must both be completely physically functioning, not lame, not deaf, dumb, or blind, and with both their hands. The child must be in the physical process of maturing, which the sages teach us is approximately three months before his bar mitzvah up to his bar mitzvah. The child must eat a certain amount of meat and drink a certain amount of wine.

With all of these requirements, an actual case of the Rebellious Son indeed becomes an impossibility.

There is, however, an opinion in the Talmud that this commandment was, indeed, fulfilled. Rabbi Yonatan claims that he saw it, and even sat on the rebellious son's grave. In a similar discussion, the commandment of the "Seduced City," one that worships idols in its entirety and must be completely destroyed, is debated. One Rabbi claims that it never happened and never will happen, while Rabbi Yonatan claims that it did happen, and he sat on the archaeological mound of the remains of that city.

This argument is difficult to understand. Are they arguing about historical facts? As a rule, such arguments do not take place in the Talmud. Secondly, why does Rabbi Yonatan stress that he sat on the grave of the rebellious son, and sat on the mound of the seduced city? What does this symbolize?

One could say that Rabbi Yonatan is teaching us something we all have experienced, namely, "Never say never." Ripley's Believe It or Not actually exists. But this answer leaves the question of whether they are debating historical facts in place. Can we find another approach?

The Mishna tells us that the rebellious son is judged according to his ultimate destiny. A child who meets all of these requirements will certainly, 100%, grow up to become a violent criminal. Thus, it is better that he die now, before his bar mitzvah. In that way, he will arrive at the World to Come as a righteous child, rather than as an evil adult later on.

This is also problematic, as it seems to contradict the concept of free choice and to deny this individual the opportunity of repentance. Nonetheless, the sages seem to be teaching us a lesson that, under certain extreme circumstances, a person can immunize himself from the pangs of conscience. Indeed, when it comes to the requirements of the parents, the sages are showing us that this child must have nothing to blame his bad behavior on. His parents must be exemplary, unified, capable. They must rebuke him and teach him as he grows. If all of these things are in place, and the rebellious son continues with contrary behavior, then he has demonstrated his impossibility of repentance.

This suggests to me a new explanation of this puzzling commandment. I will give a parable. A road that passes by a steep cliff must have a strong fence to keep cars from going over the edge. Such a strong fence could be constructed as to make crashing through it and going over the cliff completely impossible. The cliff, however, does not disappear and cease to exist because of the presence of the fence. It is simply impossible for any car to crash over it. Pure physics.

So it is with this commandment. A convicted rebellious son is theoretically possible, but physically and psychologically impossible. Why? Because if the parenting is perfect, as the sages require, human nature will not allow the child to fail. Only if the parents are faulty will the son become rebellious. True, he will no longer be subject to the Rebellious Son penalty, but he will be tremendous trouble to his parents and society nonetheless, and that's no good.

Thus, the commandment is not in vain. Rabbi Yehuda is urging us to inquire, and learn just how to make sure that this sad situation will never happen. By understanding this commandment, we will understand how to be excellent parents and teachers. The reward will be, as we said above, that there will never be a rebellious son, or even a slightly rebellious son, not in law and not in practice. Rabbi Yehuda tells us that, with proper parenting, there never was and never will be a failure.

And what are these lessons of proper parenting?

  1. The parents must have the same voice. This is a literal impossibility since men and women are constructed differently vocally. What it means is that they must be speaking the same message. They must be speaking it in the same fashion. When a child receives a unified message from his parents, he will learn right and wrong with clarity.
  2. The parents must be of the same height. While this is more practical, it still is rare. I believe the height mentioned here refers to spiritual height. It must be of the same stature, sharing the same religious commitments. Not just their voices must be unified, their actions must be as well.
  3. They must not be lame, blind, deaf, or dumb. In other words, they must be aware of and involved in their child's development. They must hear, see, teach, assist and accompany their child actively, throughout the formative years.
  4. The commandment applies to a child in the three months before he becomes physically mature. In other words, special attention is paid to those moments in life when a path must be chosen and when a change is to take place. Teaching children how to make important decisions is not easy, but maybe the most important lessons that they will learn.
  5. The child must eat meat and drink wine. If he does one without the other, he is not judged as a Rebellious Son. The eating of meat symbolizes lusts and passions. The drinking of wine symbolizes the silencing of the voice of conscience. Every human struggles with lusts and passions, but without the voice of conscience, there is no hope for correction.

Rabbi Yonatan, by claiming that he sat on the grave of the rebellious son, and on the mound of the seduced city, is not disagreeing with Rabbi Yehuda! The great Maharal of Prague explained Rabbi Yonatan's statement as being an allegory to the Jewish people. "My firstborn son is Israel," and our father is God, and our mother is the eternity of Israel. The Israelites sinned, they rebelled against both. The result? Exile. Jerusalem was the seduced city and was destroyed by the Romans. When Rabbi Yonatan tells us that he sat on these things, he may have used the word "sat" as a code word for "mourned." The mourner "sits shiva." All of Israel mourns the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem on the ninth of Av.

What I learn from this commentary is that, according to Rabbi Yonatan, this commandment was factual in part. Aspects of the rebellious son were our national shame in the past, and the exiles and sufferings of the Jewish people were the accompanying judgment. And so, if we inquire and improve the way that we influence each other, the way that we lift ourselves up as a nation, we shall certainly receive our reward! What will that reward be? That there will no longer be a rebellious son and a seduced city, rather a loyal son and a rebuilt city!