O holy Shabbes inspiration Ki Teitzei

Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Congregation Neve Shalom and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.

By Rabbi James Stone Goodman

Here’s a tough one: What about stoning a rebellious kid?

When a man has a son who is stubborn, and a rebel one who does not listen to

the voice of his father or the voice of his mother —

and they discipline him and he still does not listen to them

then his father and his mother are to grab him

and drag him to the town elders

in the gates of his place —

and they are to say to the town elders

our son is stubborn and a rebel

he does not listen to our voice

he is a glutton and a drunkard

then all the men of the town are to pelt him with stones

so that he dies   

so shall you burn the evil out of your midst

and all Israel will hear and be awed.                [Deut 21:18 ff.]

I don’t believe this for a minute. This is like threatening your kid with Juvenile Detention. Who actually got sent to Juvie?            

The Rabbis said: the stoning of a son who is stubborn and a rebel never happened and never will happen. Why then was this law written in the Torah?

It was put in the Torah so we can study it and receive reward for our study.                    [BT Sanhedrin 71a].

Meaning — we should talk about it because there may have been a time, there may be a time to come, when you want to strangle your kid. You gotta talk about it. Think it through, turn it and turn it for what it means. 

Lousy good-for-nothing kid, so-and-so ungrateful no-count lowlife kid —

talk it through, think about it, let the heat dissipate.

The Talmud continues: Rabbi Yonatan said, you are wrong. It did happen.

I saw one [kid who was stoned to death] and sat on his grave. [Sanhedrin 71a]

If we thought we were out of this story with our sophisticated sensibility, our enlightened parenting intact, consider this picture of Rabbi Yonatan sitting on a grave — back to the verse, the end specifically: all Israel will hear and be awed.

Rabbi Yonatan: LookI don’t know whose grave I was sitting on, but the point is when my kid hears about it, he and all Israel will be awed, moved — look I’m trying to run a household here.

We don’t really act this way but we do resort to lesser strategies once in a while. We get frustrated; our kids aren’t behaving the way we would have them behave,

parenting is not the sophisticated set of clever strategies the books recommend,

family peace is not the way we intended it: hey it’s not happening the way it was supposed to –

Give me a break here. My version of existence — my children, my family —

let the rest of Israel hear it and set their houses in order. We’re doing the best we can, what we are reaching for is a way to return.

Ki Teitzei — when you leave — ya-tza — the room for leaving. When we leave our expectations over the great messes that our lives have become, when we cease to compare the what-it-is to the what-we-wanted or the-way-it-was-supposed-to-be, when we leave Ki Teitzei behind all the supposed-to’s of our existence: our kids — supposed to behave this way, our husbands our wives — supposed to act this way, ourselves — supposed to enjoy our lives this way.

When we ki teitze, when we leave — if we leave — our expectations where they belong: in a shoebox under the bed, then are we free to deal creatively with life, with our children, our families, the way they are, not the way they are supposed to be.

The way they are: the great what-it-is. We have ki teitzei’d, we have left the supposed-to-be and have entered the holy way-it-is; now we are free to be

alive to life in its complexity, its messiness, independent of our effort to manage,

cajole, contain.

We are alive to life as it presents itself to us; not as we would have had it. 

We are now truly co-creators with G*d in the full catastrophe of existence, as Zorba and the Buddhists say, and free.

Forgive us O holy G*d our lofty strategies and less lofty strategies. We are all learning, studying the world so we may receive the merits.

We’re doing the best we can.


Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Congregation Neve Shalom and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.