Never Give Up on Anyone

The Fellowship  |  September 13, 2019

Yael Eckstein smiling at an elderly woman wrapped in a blanket.

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. — Deuteronomy 21:18-19

In the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days, the Jewish people focus on Scriptures from the Torah that provide hope and inspiration as they prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is one of 12 devotions on the hope we have as people of faith. To learn more about the High Holy Days, download our complimentary devotional guide.

In these verses, we come across one of the harder laws to accept. The law of the “rebellious son” required such a child to be brought to the elders, and if convicted, be sentenced to death (21:21). But, you know what? According to Jewish tradition, there never was, nor will there ever be, such a person. There were so many specific requirements that had to be met in order to label someone a bona fide “rebellious son” that, in practice, there never actually was one.

So why then does God include these laws in the Bible?

The rebellious son was someone who repeatedly stole money in order to buy meat and wine which he then consumed in a most inappropriate manner. The Jewish sages explain that ultimately, when his parents had no more money to steal, this son would then turn to murder and other kinds of evil to get the money he needed. The boy was sentenced to death, not on account of his current sins, but because the path he was on would inevitably lead him to become a wicked person for whom there is no hope.

However, the Bible teaches us that such a person will never exist. There is no such thing as a person for whom there is no hope!

I am reminded of the story of Rabbi Akiva, the greatest sage of his generation who lived some 2,000 years ago. According to tradition, Akiva lived the first 40 years of his life as an ignoramus who hated Torah scholars so much that, if given the chance, he would bite one! At age 40, with encouragement from his new wife, Akiva decided to give the Bible a try. Yet, he was discouraged – he couldn’t even read!

Then, one day Akiva came across a large rock in a brook with a hole in its center. Akiva wondered how the hole got there and discovered a slow, constant trickle of water that had been dripping on the rock for what must have been a long time. Akiva concluded that if water, which is soft, can bore a hole through a rock, which is hard, then certainly God’s Word, which is like fire, could transform his heart of flesh. Akiva joined the youngest students in their Bible studies, and decades later, became one of the greatest sages to ever live with 24,000 disciples of his own.

Friends, never give up on anyone – especially on yourself. For anyone living, there is always hope to become better.

Explore the most holy time on the Jewish calendar with our complimentary devotional guide, High Holy Days: A Season of Repentance.