By Rabbi Alex Chapper
HOW CAN anyone claim the Torah is no longer relevant? Just take a look at three seemingly unco nected strands in this portion. First, the rules governing female captives of war, then the laws of inheritance – followed by the enigma that is the rebellious child.
Our sages explain that these diverse topics are in fact interwoven as one message to those who allow their inclinations to govern their actions.
In wartime, life is cheap, values are low. The elated war hero takes his captive – he is lonely, weak, and only human, so the Torah is sympathetic and consents under certain conditions. But it warns you cannot fight the forces of nature. There will come a time when everything you hold dear will be passed on to those you hold dearest and there will be consequences.
If you make life-changing decisions based solely on outward appearances, your offspring will be inclined to disobedience and unruly behaviour. Why is that?
The Torah predicts that the time will come when you will cause your children to inherit that which you possess. Just as you will bequeath your material possessions to your progeny so too will your spiritual legacy live on within them.
Your children are heirs, as much to your wealth, as to your morals, values and ideals.
If you value education, so too will they; if you display respect for authority, so too will they; if you are decent, charitable, hospitable and embrace your heritage, so too will they.
Conversely, if you are shallow, irreverent and mean-spirited, your future generations will have a greater tendency to these negative traits.
That is not only of timeless significance, but a clear reflection of modern society that promotes permissiveness and superficiality and now reaps its unsavoury rewards.
Paradoxically, the Gemara states that there never was nor will there ever be a truly ‘rebellious child’ according to its strict parameters, so why teach it you may ask.
Study it and receive the reward is the answer. Although it may be impossible to guarantee the outcome, we are enjoined to be particularly careful to ensure that we not only inculcate the highest principles, but live by them as well, for ultimately that will be our credit and the best tribute.
• Alex Chapper is minister
of Ilford Federation Synagogue and is the ‘Children’s Rabbi’. See his website: www.childrens rabbi.com