In this week's portion we read about the ultimate reason for creation, the moment which all of history had been building up to -- the giving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are separated into two categories, each one occupying its own tablet.
In this week's portion we read about the ultimate reason for creation, the moment which all of history had been building up to -- the giving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are separated into two categories, each one occupying its own tablet. The first five are between man and G-d, while the last five are between man and his fellow. This dichotomy is clear in all except for one of the commandments. The mitzvah of kibud av va'em - to honor one's father and mother, seems to be misplaced in the first set, suggesting that it is a mitzvah between man and G-d. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to have put it amongst the last five commandments which are between man and his fellow?
The Talmud explains that by honoring our parents we are also honoring Hashem, and for that reason it is considered to be a law which pertains to our relationship with the Almighty. Why should this be? A person who honors his parents shows that he is willing to accept their authority and carry on the Jewish tradition. They are the most recent link in our majestic tradition which has been passed down from generation to generation for more than three thousand years. By rejecting parental authority, one will tend to deny Hashem's authority as well. This will eventually lead a person to turn his back on the ties which have upheld the Jewish nation since that wonderful day at Mt. Sinai when we received the Torah.
Another explanation for the placement of this mitzvah to honor one's parents amongst the first five may be to convey the message that if a parent tells his child to do something wrong or illegal, in other words to go against another one of the Torah's commandments, the child is not permitted to listen to the parent. Hashem created both the parent and the child, and it was He who commanded the child to listen to what the parent has to say. The parent therefore has no right to tell the child to do something against Hashem's will. This can be likened to the president of a company who tells all of his employees to comply with anything that a certain manager says. If the manager turns around and tells the employees to go on strike, they have no right to listen to the manager without the president's approval. Without the president, neither the employees nor the manager would be there in the first place, and it was the president himself who told the employees to listen to the manager.
The Talmud relates that honoring one's parents is one of the most difficult mitzvot to properly keep. The debt of gratitude which we owe them for everything which they have done for us is enormous, and the importance of this mitzvah is clearly stressed by its inclusion among the Ten Commandments.
Adapted in part from the book Lilmod U'lelamed.
Baruch Len, originally from South Africa, now resides in Atlanta.
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