Honoring Your Parents

If the ten commandments are Torah distilled, then each of the ten is vitally important and reflects far more than the surface meaning. “Honor your father and mother” is the fifth commandment and it’s one that the sages say was explicitly taught at Marah.

Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that the LORD your God is assigning to you.

Exodus 20:12
Babur Seeks His Grandmothers Advice. The “Memoirs of Babur” or Baburnama are the work of the great-great-great-grandson of Timur (Tamerlane), Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1483-1530).

Honoring ones parents is also said to be honoring God.

You must be extremely careful to honor and revere your father and mother for Scripture compares their honor and reverence to the honor and reverence you must have for the Almighty…Three partners share in the formation of man: The Holy One, Blessed is He, his father, and his mother. (The man contributes, the woman contributes, and the Holy One, Blessed is He, breathes a soul into him, endows him with eye sight, hearing and speech.) When man honors his father and mother, the Holy One, Blessed is He, says, “I account it to them as though I dwelt among them, and they honored Me.”

Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, Siman 143:7

Honoring does not mean obeying them in all things, or in following their ways, should they not be good people. You’re allowed to leave them, even if they are elderly and require care (so long as others are caring for them). You don’t even have to love them.

The Shulchan Aruch, the authoritative code of Jewish law, [states]: “How much should a person have awe of his parents? Even if he was wearing formal clothes and sitting at the head of an assembly, and his father and mother came and tore his clothes, beat him, and spit at him, he may not insult them but rather should remain quiet, and be in awe of the King of kings who commanded him thus. . . How much should he honor his father and mother? Even if they took his wallet full of money and threw it into the sea, he should not insult them nor irritate them nor get angry at them, rather he should accept the dictate of Scripture and remain quiet.”

We see two things: First of all, we see that the trial you face, where a parent shows contempt for the child and takes his or her money, is considered the most difficult ordeal of all in upholding honor of parents. Second of all, we see that even in this case the child is not allowed to insult the parent.

However, we learn from this same chapter of the Shulchan Aruch that the child is allowed to sue the parent for the money. Having a monetary disagreement with someone doesn’t mean that you don’t respect them, and parents are no exception.

The Jewish Ethicist: Taking the Fifth (Commandment)

The honor extends to other family members as well. Stepparents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and anyone older or who helped raise you.

But how much further does it go? Which other commandments and concepts does “honor your father and mother” imply? Rashi discusses the twin nature of the Ten Commandments as part of his explanation for twin metaphors in the Song of Songs.

Like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. It is a gazelle’s nature to bear twins, similarly, they [Moshe and Aharon] are equal, this one to that one.  (This is in accordance with Rashi in Shemos 6:26 who states “there are places where the Torah sets Aharon ahead of Moshe and there are places where it sets Moshe ahead of Aharon, to tell you that they were equal.”) 

Another explanation, “Your bosom,” is a reference to the Tablets, “twins of a gazelle,” they are equal with one measure; five commandments on this one and five on the other, each commandment corresponding to the other. [I.e., the five commandments on one side of the Tablets correspond to the five commandments on the other side of the Tablets.] 

“I [am Adonoy…],” corresponds to, “You shall not murder,” for the murderer diminishes the image of the Holy One, Blessed Is He. 

“You shall not have other gods,” corresponds to, “you shall not commit adultery,” for one who commits idolatry is like an adulterous woman who takes strangers while bound to her husband. 

“You shall not take [the name of Adonoy your God in vain],” corresponds to, “You shall not steal,” for one who steals will eventually swear falsely. 

“Remember [the day of Shabbos],” corresponds to, “You shall not bear [false witness],” for one who profanes the Shabbos testifies falsely against his Creator, saying that He did not rest on the Shabbos of Creation. 

“Honor [your father and mother],” corresponds to, “You shall not covet,” for one who covets (His friend’s wife) will eventually beget a son who [unknowingly] slights him and honors one who is not his father.

Rashi on Song of Songs 4:5. Note: Square brackets are from the original. Parenthesis are relevant footnotes from original. Paragraph separation added.

The fifth commandment addresses not only various parent/child relationships, and also the relationship we have with God, but in addition relationships within our community.

From the roots of this commandment is that it is fitting for a person to acknowledge and return kindness to people who were good to him, and not to be an ungrateful scoundrel, because that is a bad and repulsive attribute before God and people.

Sefer HaChinukh 33

As slaves, the Hebrews did not have control over their work schedule or their judicial system, which is why learning about Shabbat and justice are vital things being taught at Marah, things they need to prepare themselves for the revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai.

At first glance, the commandment of honoring your parents doesn’t seem to fit. To some degree, it’s part of every healthy culture. And not a large element within society.

But the Hebrews also had only marginal control over their families. While their form of slavery was more like serfdom (where they live mostly independently in their own villages), the Egyptian slavers could at any time take away a child or adult to work in the mines or the palace. They murdered newborn boys at the time that Moses was born. They required that the Hebrews honor Pharaoh and used the Hebrews only for the labor they could perform.

Now that the Hebrews were free, they no longer had a human ruler to pay homage to. They could turn to God and honor God as well as the humans who gave them life. They could form new forms of respect based on merit and relationship.


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