Several years ago, we have discussed the laws of honoring one’s parents here at “Halacha Yomit. We will, G-d-willing, spend the next few days revisiting these laws along with some additions to what we have published in the past.
The Importance of the Obligation to Honor One’s Parents
The Baraita in Masechet Kiddushin (30b) tells us: “Our Sages taught: The Torah states, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and it also states, ‘Honor Hashem with your wealth.’ The Torah thus equates honoring one’s parents to honoring Hashem. The Torah states, ‘Each shall revere his mother and father,’ and it also states, ‘You shall fear Hashem, your G-d.’ The Torah thus equates revering one’s parents to fearing Hashem.”
This means that Hashem treated honoring one’s parents so stringently that He actually equated the honor and reverence showed to parents to His own honor and reverence.
The Three Partners in the Formation of Man
“The Sages taught: There are three partners in [the formation of] man: Hashem, the father, and the mother (which means that the parents are partners in the formation of the child’s body whereas Hashem provides the soul, eyesight, hearing, and the power of speech). When one honors one’s parents, Hashem says, ‘I consider it as though I have dwelled among you and you have honored Me.’”
The Torah further states (Vayikra 19), “Each man shall revere his mother and father and you shall keep My Shabbat,” to teach us that if one’s father commands him to desecrate the Shabbat, the child may not obey his father, for the father is likewise obligated to honor Hashem who has commanded to observe the holy Shabbat. The same applies to any other Mitzvot in that if one’s parents command him to transgress any of the Torah’s commandments or that of the Sages, one may not obey them, for they are also obligated to keep these commandments.
The Honor of One’s Father Versus the Honor of One’s Mother
The Baraita states: “Rabbi [Yehuda HaNassi] says: It is revealed and known before the One Who said and brought the world into existence that a son honors his mother more than his father. Thus, Hashem preceded the Mitzvah to honor one’s father before the Mitzvah to honor one’s mother. It is also revealed and known before the One Who said and brought the world into existence that a son fears his father more than his mother. Thus, Hashem preceded the Mitzvah to revere one’s mother before the Mitzvah to revere one’s father (as the verse states, “Each man shall revere his mother and father”).”
To What Extent Must One Honor One’s Parents?
Rabbi Eliezer was asked, “To what extent must one honor one’s parents?” He answered, “Take a look at what a certain non-Jew from Ashkelon by the name of Dama ben Netina did. Once, the Sages requested a certain stone for the apron (worn by the Kohen Gadol) from him for the sum of 600,000 golden Dinars. The key for the safe where the stones were placed lay under the pillow of his sleeping father. In order not to disturb his father, he did not awaken him. The next year, Hashem rewarded him by making a Red Heifer be born in his flock which he proceeded to sell to the Sages for the same amount that he lost for his father’s honor.”
The Gemara further recounts that once, Dama ben Netina was once adorned with the golden vestments usually worn by Rome’s highest officials and was sitting among some of the most respected citizens of Rome when his mother arrived, tore his clothing, whacked him on the head, and spit at him; yet, he did not humiliate her in return.
The Gemara (ibid. 31b) recounts another incident with Rabbi Tarfon that whenever his mother would need to get onto or off of her bed (which was slightly elevated from the ground), Rabbi Tarfon would kneel in order for her to step on his back (meaning that he would be like her “stool” to get on and off the bed). The Gemara there continues to bring similar incidents that illustrate the importance of honoring one’s parents and to what extent one must do so.
Maran Rabbeinu Yosef Karo in his Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 240) introduces the laws of honoring one’s parents by saying, “One must be exceedingly careful regarding honoring and revering one’s parents,” for this is indeed a precious Mitzvah and one can easily fail in its performance. Thus, one must be extremely careful to fulfill this Mitzvah properly.