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   by Jacob Solomon

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A man must respect his mother and father, and you (in the plural) must observe My Sabbaths: I am G-d (19:3).

You (in the plural) must observe My Sabbaths, and respect (plural) my Sanctuary: I am G-d (19:30).

The Torah's instructing one to show respect to one's parents - under the Fifth Commandment, is followed Sabbaths observance - under the Fourth Commandment. The Rabbis explain that the Sabbath is put after respecting parents to teach that parents' wishes must be set aside if they involve the breach of G-d's Will as expressed by the Mitzvot - exemplified by the Sabbath (Rashi ad loc). Moreover, the Sabbath is so fundamental that it even takes precedence over so central a task as building the Temple (Rashi ad loc): that is how the Rabbis understand the juxtaposition of the Sabbath and the Sanctuary in the second verse above.

Why, though, is respect for parents expressed by the text in the singular? And respect for the Sanctuary put in the plural?

It may be put forward that the differences between respect for parents on one side, and laws concerning both the Sabbath and the Temple on the other show two complementary aspects of Torah observance.

Both the laws of the Sabbath and the Temple are quantifiable. The former includes the thirty-nine categories of prohibited activities and their associated derivatives and Rabbinic enactments. The latter involves laws of ritual purification concerning who may enter the Temple Precinct, and in what circumstances, and how far within. Common to both is that they have sets of ordinances binding on everyone in the community - evidenced by their respective laws, filling between them a sizeable part of the Talmud.

In contrast, the directive to show due respect and care for one's parents is expressed by the Torah in the singular. There is no Tractate of the Mishna that deals with how to relate to parents. And although several folios in the Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin tackle the concept from a Halachic standpoint, much of what constitutes respect and disrespect varies from culture to culture and period to period. For example, in some communities it would be unthinkable to guide ageing and infirm parents to a senior citizen's nursing home. In others, it would be wrong not to so, as many of those places have staff and facilities no private home would be able to supply.

In addition, the Torah implicitly recognizes that codes vary from family to family. There is a wide variety of modern family models in line with Torah teaching - from authoritarian on one side, to freedom within suitable and consistently set guidelines on the other, giving the child the opportunity to make his or her own decisions at a fairly early age. Though Halacha is an important part of the Jewish tradition, it recognizes that respect is a relative term, expressed differently in different eras, societies, and - most important - in the framework of the different personalities making up each family group. No two families are the same. So although the Torah demands respect, it demands from the individual the sensitivity and good sense to make that the norm.

However the Torah imposes absolute standards in other areas - in relations between Man and G-d - exemplified in the Sabbath, and in the Temple. They also not merely place the family members on common ground in line with the Jewish People, but create a unifying sense of direction to Higher Purpose within the family. And the fact that the Torah does not explicitly say that, 'in conflict between G-d and parents, G-d comes first', but silently puts them together, implies that when those duties conflict, every effort must be made to avoid negative confrontation with parents, and keep it to an absolute minimum when patently unavoidable.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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