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Honor your Father and your Mother

The great importance and significance of the Mitzvah to honor parents is seen in the fact that it is part of the Ten Commandments:

Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16)

Fear your mother and your father (Leviticus 19:3)

In the matter of honor due to parents, the father is mentioned first; in the matter of reverence due to them, the mother is mentioned first. From this we infer that both are to be equally honored and revered. Thus, whatever is said of one parent applies equally to the other parent (Kerrithoth 6:9 - 28a).

Maimonides enumerates in addition to these commandments also three prohibitions:
a) not to curse one's father or mother
b) no to smite one's father or mother
c) that a son shall not rebel against the authority of his father or mother
(Sefer Hamitzvot II:218, 219 and 195, and Hilchos Mamrim ch 5ff.)

The Mitzvah of Kibud Av va-Em (the precept to honor father and mother) may be a self-evidently rational, ethical principle. But the Talmud refers to it as the most difficult Mitzvah (Talmud Yerusahlmi, Peah I:1).

Respect for parents - A religious principle

However, the fact that the Torah declares the proper child-to-parent relationship to be a Divine precept lends it a new character.

Honor your father and your mother as the L-rd your G-d has commanded you. (Deuteronomy 5:16)

The fact that "to honor" and "to revere" parents are Mitzvot of the Torah, impresses upon these precepts a stamp of absoluteness and makes of them independent principles.

Indeed, the Torah's absolute precepts remain in force even in relation to parents who may have forsaken the Torah (Hilchot Mamrim 5:12ff., and 6:11; Shulchan Aruch, 240:18).

The religious aspect of honoring parents

The commandment to "honor your father and your mother" is part of the first of the two tablets in the Ten Commandments. This is rather significant. For the precepts on the first tablet deal with typically religious matters of the man-G-d relationship, while the Mitzvot on the second tablet deal with the matters related to intra-human relationships.

The child-parent relationship is analogous to, and intricately bound up in, the man--G-d relationship. This is so because in bringing a child into this world the parents are in a partnership with G-d: the material substance is derived from the parents, while G-d grants spirit and soul, the vital form of man (Kidushin 30b, Nidah 31a).

That is why this commandment appears in the middle of the Ten Commandments: it mediates between the first four and the latter five precepts because it is related to both groups. It is as much a religious principle as it is a social one.

When not to obey - An exception

The fact that the precepts to honor and revere parents are commands of G-d implies not only the wide extent and significance of these Mitzvot, but also their limitation. It is G-d Who prescribes these Mitzvot, and it is G-d's Torah which delineates their specific details.

'Ye shall fear every man his mother and his father, and ye shall keep my Sabbaths; I am the L-rd your G-d.' Scripture juxtaposes the observance of the Sabbath to the fear of one's father in order to teach you that 'although I admonish you regarding the fear of your father, yet if he bids you to desecrate the Sabbath do not listen to him [and the same is the case with any of the other commandments], for 'I am the L-rd your G-d' - both you and your father are equally bound in duty to honor Me. Do not, therefore, obey him if it results in disobeying My words.' (Rashi on Leviticus 19:3, Yevamot 5b, Bava Metzia 32a).

If parents would order their child to transgress a positive or a negative command set forth in the Torah, or even a command which is of rabbinic origin, the child must disregard the order. This includes the duty of studying Torah which supersedes that of honoring parents (Hilchot Mamrim 6:12f., Shulchan Aruch, 240:12f and 25).

Children's Behaviour and Parents' Honor

Everyone must keep in mind that his personal behavior reflects very much on his parents. Where one leads an exemplary life, this is a source of joy and honor to his parents and causes others to praise them and admire them. Conversely, a child's improper behavior is a source of disgrace and ignonimity to parents, in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. (Berachot 17a, Yoma 86a, Ketubot 45a).

And just as the child has responsibilities towards its parents, the parents have definite duties and responsibilities towards their children. Foremost among the parent's duties toward his offspring is to teach him Torah, to guide him and to prepare him for a committed and meaningful Torah-life. (Talmud, Kidushin 29a).

But though the failures of the parents in their duties is often casually related to the failures of the child, by no means does this exempt or excuse the child's neglect of his own responsibilities. The Torah decrees that where the parent neglects to teach his child, the child must teach himself and on his own seek to acquire the knowledge essential to a life in accordance with the Torah. (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 245:1).

In addition to the various laws cited in the previous paragraphs,

  1. One must be extremely careful to honor and revere his father and mother, for the Torah compares it to the honor and reverence of G-d.

  2. Both man and woman are enjoined to honor and revere parents. However, a married woman is not in a position to supply her parents with their needs inasmuch as she depends on others, and she is therefore exempt thereof. But she is obligated to do for her parents all she can as long as her husband does not object.

  3. One must honor and respect his step-mother during his father's lifetime and his step-father during his mother's lifetime. It is proper that one honor and respect them even after the death of one's own parents.

  4. One must honor and respect his father-in-law and his mother-in-law (as we find that King David honored King Saul, who was his father- in-law, by calling him "my father"; see I Samuel 24:12). Likewise one must honor and respect grandparents. Also implied in this Mitzvah is that one must honor his elder brother and sister.

  5. If the father or mother is asleep and the key to one's store lies under their pillow, one must not waken them even if he should loose much profit thereby. However, if the father would benefit by being awakened, and if the son should fail to awake him he will grieve over the loss of the profit, it is the son's duty to arouse him since that will make the father happy. It is also the duty of children to arouse their father for the performance of any religious duty (which might otherwise be neglected) as all are equally bound to honor the Almighty.

  6. If the mind of his father or mother is affected, one should make every effort to indulge the vagaries of the stricken parent, until G-d will have mercy on the affected. But if the condition of the parent has grown worse and the son is no longer able to endure the strain, he may leave his father or mother provided he delegates others to give the parent proper care.

  7. When a child sees his parent violate the Torah he must not say to him "You have violated a command of the Torah"; he should rather say: "Father, is it not written in the Torah thus and thus?", speaking to him as though he were consulting him instead of admonishing him, so that the parent may correct himself without being put to shame.

  8. The Torah is rigorous not only with respect to him who strikes or curses his parents but also with him who puts them to shame. For he who treats them with contempt, even by using harsh words against them, even by a discourteous gesture, is cursed by G-d, as it is said: "Cursed be he that dishonors his father or his mother." (Deuteronomy 27:16)

  9. One must honor his parents even after their death. When mentioning parents after their demise one should add: "May his (or her) memory be a blessing."

  10. Although children are commanded to go to the aforementioned lengths in their relationship to their parents, the parent is forbidden to impose too heavy a yoke upon them, to be too exacting with them in matters pertaining to his honor, lest he cause them to stumble. He should forgive them and shut his eyes, for a parent has the right to forego the honor due him.

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