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"Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened on the land that Hashem, your G-d gives you." (Shemot 20:12)
The fifth of the Aseret Hadibrot (Ten Commandments) completes the commandments of the first of the two tablets. This Mitzvah (commandment), to show honor to one?s parents, is also the bridge between the two tablets. The first tablet contains Mitzvot Bayn Adam L?Makom (commandments between man and Hashem) while the second tablet contains Mitzvot Bayn Adam L? Chaveyro (commandments between man and his fellow man). This poses a difficulty, for most of us would classify honoring one?s parents as a Mitzvah Bayn Adam L?Chaveyro.
To best comprehend this Mitzvah one must understand that there are three partners in the formation of a child: a man, a woman, and also Hashem. Therefore, one cannot give proper honor to Hashem without being able to give honor to his parents. Without this Mitzvah, the first four and the last five cannot be properly observed.
The commandment is slightly different when it appears in Parshat Kedoshim (Vayikra [Leviticus] 19:3).
"Every man: Your mother and father shall you FEAR and observe My Sabbaths..." Here, the Torah teaches us a very profound lesson - that we should treat our parents equally. We all feel that parents should treat children equally. Favoritism shown by a parent can lead to serious problems between parent and child. Likewise, a child is obligated to treat his parents equally.
Often children give their mothers greater honor than their fathers and, likewise, they fear their fathers more than their mothers. Mothers are the nurturers who give of themselves often without regard to their personal needs or wants. Fathers are usually the disciplinarians in the family; they command a higher level respect or more aptly, fear. How often do mothers say to their unruly children, "wait till your father gets home?" The Torah therefore juxtaposes their roles - honor your father and fear your mother.
Another common feature between these two Mitzvot is their connection to Shabbat. Observing Shabbat is the fourth commandment, honoring one?s parents is the fifth. And, the Mitzvah of fearing one?s parents is immediately followed with; "and observe My Sabbaths..." Another very important lesson is presented to us here, namely, that one must respect his parents - and that doesn?t mean that one must always listen to them.
If a parent demands that you transgress a commandment for them, claiming that the Torah demands you to ?honor your father and mother,? then the Torah says NO! that is unacceptable. A parent who asks his/her child to transgress one of Hashem?s commandments as a sign of respect is unfairly jeopardizing the spiritual development of their child.
The Aseret Hadibrot are repeated in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 5:6-19. There is a slight difference in wording between the two versions. In our Parsha the Mitzvah reads:
"Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened on the land that Hashem, your G-d gives you." However, in the second version the same Mitzvah reads:
"Honor your father and your mother, AS HASHEM, YOUR G-D COMMANDED YOU, so that your days will be lengthened on the land that Hashem, your G-d gives you."
What lesson do these additional words (as Hashem, your G-d commanded you) teach us? The Meshech Chochma (Reb Meir Simcha of D?vinsk [Russia] 1843-1926) teaches us that we shouldn?t think that respecting one?s parents is like paying back a debt. Most parents spend a small fortune on clothes, food, schooling, medical and dental expenses for their children. However, the Torah doesn?t obligate respect of parents out of financial conscience.
NO! One is obligated to honor his parents "as Hashem, your G-d commanded you." Just as this commandment was given in the desert and the normal process of child welfare had not yet occurred, so too must we give honor to our parents with no strings attached. Honor for the sake of honor, not as a repayment for the generous care that they provided.
There is a story in the Talmud (Tractate Kiddushin) of a certain gentile in the city of Ashkelon who had precious stones that were worthy of being used in the High Priest?s Breastplate. A delegation of Rabbis came from Jerusalem with 600,000 shekels for the transaction. When they arrived at the gentile?s home and requested to examine the stones, the son of the owner informed them that he couldn?t go ahead with the transaction. His father was asleep, and the key to the safe was under the father?s pillow.
Even though a large amount of money might have been forfeited, or at least delayed, the son was not willing to disturb his father. This is a cherished example of honoring one?s parents.
Finally, one of the main traits necessary to raise children properly is patience. Rabbi Yissochor Frand of Baltimore says that often, especially today with extended health and life expectancy, "children must develop patience with parents." As they get older, they often become dependent on their children. This can lead to strife in a family that has to care for elderly parents. A healthy spiritual relationship between parents and children during the years when the parents are robust will assuredly be continued when parents can no longer take care of themselves.
The Torah demands this by legislating our duties not as a display of kindness, or, out of a sense of pity or duty, but as an expression of honor and reverence to parents and, therefore, also to Hashem.