דברים כא׃יח Deuteronomy 21:18
כי־יהיה לאיש בן סורר ומורה איננו שמע בקול אביו ובקול אמו ויסרו אתו ולא ישמע אליהם׃
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not listen to them...
When we read this passage from this week's Torah portion and the passages that follow, we tend to dwell--with horror--on the punishment for the rebellious child: death. Public death. How could parents willingly submit their child, no matter how poorly behaved, to die? The rabbis of the Talmud twist themselves in knots trying to First mitigate, then nullify, this bit of Torah, and we as progressive moderns might be inclined to dismiss it.
But Elul gives us a chance to read this text metaphorically. Are we not, so often, rebellious? Rebellious against God, against our best selves, against the truth of our experience? I don't mean here being punk rock or iconoclastic, but rather those moments when we know we're doing harm, we know we're being hurtful, we know we need to change course, and we proceed along our path of destruction anyway. We chastise ourselves (perhaps friends and trusted mentors get in on the action too) and we dig in our heals and keep on keeping on. Doesn't this feel like the "death of the soul" the Mahzor speaks of? Do we not, in failing to hear or heed the needs of others--or even our own needs--leading ourselves to a kind of all-too public demise: of our relationships, of our regard for ourselves?
As literal Halakah, we should find this text appalling; and we should remember the consequences when we fail to hear "Mother's" and "Father's" voices--the still, small Voice within, the Voice of judgment without--that otherwise guide us.