Honor Forever and Always
July 7, 2020
Dear Holy Friends,
I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and enjoying your summer. As part of my professional portfolio, I have the opportunity of teaching Rabbinics in the high school at the Leffell School in Westchester, New York (formerly the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester). I love the students and the chance to introduce them to words and thoughts of Judaism’s rich tradition.
One of the most interesting set of texts we study involves the Mitzvah of showing honor to one’s parents. As you are likely aware, people often visualize the Ten Commandments as two tablets, the first of which shares about commandments between humankind and God, and the second of which discusses directives that are between one person and another. Interestingly, the commandment to honor one’s parents sits at position five, on the side of obligations towards God. It is explained that the consideration of our parents alongside commandments and directives pertaining to God occurs, because like God, our parents are the partners of our physical creation.
Also noteworthy is the fact that the commandment, which is repeated in Leviticus, changes wording and order of our religious duties.
When initially introduced in Exodus, the commandment says:
(שמות כ,יא) כבד את אביך ואת אמך
When represented in Leviticus, it reads:
(Lev. 19:3) איש אמו ואביו תיראו
The Talmud, in Messechet Kiddushin, is bothered by both the difference of the verbs used and the order in which we should either honor or fear our mother versus our father.
The Talmud explains that a child is more likely to honor its mother, who is typically their primary caregiver, so in Exodus, we are told to honor our father first, something that is not necessarily a child’s first inclination. The text in Leviticus says we should fear our mother first, before our father. something missed by the commonly used expression, “Wait ‘til your father gets home!”
The text continues as follows:
ת"ר איזהו מורא ואיזהו כיבוד מורא לא עומד במקומו ולא יושב במקומו ולא סותר את דבריו ולא מכריעו כיבוד מאכיל ומשקה מלביש ומכסה מכניס ומוציא
The Rabbis of the Mishna taught: “What is fear and what is honor? Fear is not standing in his place and not sitting in his place and not disputing his words in public. Honor is making sure that we, as children, attend to their needs of food and water, clothing and taking them in and out.”
I have been thinking that the difference between these ideas of fear and honor are related to our own stages of life. Certainly, when younger, we follow the adage to be careful about contradicting our parents and being respectful of their own physical presence (fear). As both they and we age, the Mitzvah of Kavod (honor) involves something else entirely.
In the text of Kiddushin, I believe, the Mitzvah of Kavod (honor) is reminding us that taking care of our parents is a lifelong obligation. Clearly, the “age in place” model employed by social welfare agencies encourages families to allow their parents to age at home in their familiar settings. Those agencies, in fact, help provide the resources needed to do it. As our demographic continues to age, this is something that many of us will have to face.
Many of us know people who have wonderful caregivers or home health aids, who assist the elderly. These remarkable individuals, who care for our parents, are required to be companions, confidants, cooks, cleaners, friends, social workers, advisors and “on call” medical advisors. They epitomize the concept (regardless of pandemic conditions) of “essential workers.”
CBIOTP may not be a social service organization, but as a religious organization, we share a respect for and believe in the same values. Our community applauds these angels, who care for our parents and others, and would be “honored” to help assist anyone, who may need guidance, in finding an "angel" to help them or a loved one.
As a community, may we all be blessed with the strength and wisdom to adhere always to the Mitzvah of Honor.
Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD