As we have begun to discuss in this series, we are to develop a unified society in Zion. In this letter, we will discuss a mitzvah which reminds us that this unified society is to include the unity of the generations:
Honoring Parents and the Land
When we stood at Mount Sinai, we were given the following Divine mandate:
“Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be lengthened upon the Land that Hashem, your God, is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
The Divine promise for honoring our parents is not only length of days; it is length of days upon the Land. As some of the commentators explain, the phrase “upon the Land” is conveying the following message:
If we fulfill the mitzvah of honoring our parents, we will not be exiled from the Land. (Ibn Ezra, Sforno, Rabbeinu Meyuchas)
There is therefore a connection between honoring our parents and our ability to continuously live in the Land. How are we to understand this connection?
Before we can discuss an answer, we need to remember that Moshe, our teacher, gave us the following message regarding the purpose of the Land:
“See! I have taught you statutes and social laws as Hashem, my God, has commanded me, so that you may act accordingly in the midst of the Land” (Deuteronomy 4:5).
We were given the Land in order to fulfill all the mitzvos of the Torah. Moshe and other Prophets of Israel therefore gave us the following warning:
If we fail to fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah, we will be exiled from the Land.
The following excerpt from a message of Moshe can serve as an example of this warning:
“Inasmuch as I command you today to love Hashem, your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His mandates, statutes, and social laws, so that you may live and multiply, and Hashem, your God, will bless you in the Land … But if your heart will turn away and you will not listen, and you are led astray; and you prostrate yourself to strange gods and serve them; then I tell you today that you will surely be lost; you will not lengthen your days upon the Land ” (Deuteronomy 30:17, 18).
“You will surely be lost” – This refers to future stages of exile from the Land. (The Midrashic work “Pesikta Zutrasa” – cited in Sha’arei Aharon)
If our ability to remain in the Land depends upon our fulfillment of all the mitzvos, then why does the Torah stress that our ability to remain in the Land depends upon the mitzvah of honoring our parents? An answer to this question can found in the following passages from the commentary of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on the mitzvah to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12):
“The Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah are the two basic facts in the history of the Jewish people that form the foundation of our allegiance to God as the Master of our fate and the Guide of our lives. These two facts are historical truths. However, the sole guarantee of their authenticity is tradition, and tradition depends solely on its faithful transmission from parents to children, and on its willing acceptance by children from the hands of their parents. Thus, the survival of the great Divine institution that is Judaism rests entirely on the theoretical and practical obedience of children to parents. Accordingly, honoring our father and mother is the basic condition for the eternity of the Jewish nation.
“Through the father and the mother, God gives the child more than just his physical existence. Parents are also the link that connects the child to the Jewish past and enables him or her to be a Jewish man or woman. From the parents the child receives the tradition of the Jewish mission, which is shaped by knowledge, a code of conduct, and upbringing…Without this connection between parents and children, the chain of generations is broken, the hopes of the Jewish past are lost for the future, and the Jewish nation ceases to exist. It is this significant role that gives parents their prominent place in the Decalogue, so that the Torah tells us, ‘Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be lengthened upon the land that Hashem, your God, is giving you’(Exodus 20:12).”
Regarding our continued existence on the land, Rabbi Hirsch adds: “It is guaranteed only if the awareness gained by the first generation through direct revelation, and the bond that was established with this generation on the basis of that awareness, are transmitted from generation to generation through honoring one’s father and mother.”
We have therefore gained the following insight: Our ability to stay in the Land depends on our ongoing fulfillment of the Torah that we received through the Divine revelation at Sinai; moreover, this ongoing fulfillment depends on the mitzvah to honor our parents.
The above insight can give us a deeper understanding of the following Divine promise regarding the renewal of the spiritual bond between parents and children just before we return to the Land at the dawn of the messianic age:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem. And he will cause the hearts of the parents to return to their children and the hearts of the children to return to their parents, lest I come and strike the Land with utter destruction.” (Malachi 3:23, 24)
The renewal of the spiritual bond between parents and children is a prerequisite for our final return to the Land, for without the renewal of this spiritual bond, we will not have security in the Land. As a result of this spiritual renewal, we will never again experience exile from the Land, as Hashem proclaimed:
“I will plant them upon their Land, and they will never again be uprooted from their Land that I have given them, said Hashem, your God.” (Amos 9:15)
In this spirit, we chant the following prayer each Shabbos morning:
“Lead us up to our land in joy, and plant us within our borders” (Musaf Shemoneh Esrei).
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Personal Comments:
1. It is written: “A person must revere his mother and his father” (Leviticus 19:3). In addition to honoring our parents, we are to revere them, especially since they are our link to the chain of generations going back to the Revelation at Sinai, when our entire people received the Torah.
2. Moshe conveyed the following message to our people regarding the collective memory of the giving of the Torah at Horeb (Mount Sinai):
“Make known to your children and your children’s children the day that you stood before Hashem, your God at Horeb” (Deuteronomy 4:9, 10).
3. King Solomon wrote:
“Hear, my child, the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother.” (Proverbs 1:8)
4. My parents did not have a Torah education; however, I received from them certain Torah values dressed in secular garb, such as a love of loving-kindness, a passion for justice, and a dedication to tzedekah – the sharing of our resources with those in need. My parents also felt within their souls that the Jewish people have an obligation to serve as an example of these values.
Their devotion to these values, as they understood them, helped me to gain a deeper understanding of an early reference to these values within the Torah. It is found in the following Divine statement that explains why Avraham was chosen to be the founding father of a new nation that is to become a universal source of blessing:
“For I have known him because he commands his children and his household after him to keep the way of Hashem, to do tzedakah and justice” (Genesis 18:18, 19).
The Talmud explains that the above Divine statement includes a reference to the devotion to loving-kindness (Yevamos 79a). The Maharsha, a noted commentator on the Talmud, explains that the phrase “to keep the way of Hashem” is referring to the obligation to emulate the loving Divine attributes and deeds through acts of loving-kindness.
My study of Torah therefore helped me to discover the roots of these values and how these values are an expression of our higher Divine calling. In addition, my study helped me to discover the teachings and mitzvos of the Torah which reveal the practical and balanced way in which we are to apply these higher values in our life on this earth.
4. Regarding the arrival of the Prophet Elijah, it states: “And he will cause the hearts of the parents to return to their children and the hearts of the children to return to their parents.” The commentator, Rashi, gives the following alternative translation:
“And he will cause the hearts of the parents to return through their children and the hearts of the children to return through their parents.”
As Rashi explains, Elijah will lovingly speak to the children and tell them that they should speak to their parents about following Hashem’s ways. The hearts of the parents will therefore return through their children. And Elijah will also lovingly speak to the parents and tell them that they should speak to their children about following Hashem’s ways. The hearts of the children will therefore return through their parents. (Rashi cites this explanation in the name of Rabbi Menachem.)
I would like to suggest that the above explanation may be referring to the following scenario: Just before the final redemption, there will be some parents who are not fulfilling the Torah who have children who returned to the Torah. Elijah will then cause the hearts of these parents to return to the Torah through their children. And there will be some parents who are fulfilling the Torah who have children that abandoned the Torah. Elijah will then cause the hearts of these children to return to the Torah through their parents.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen