Halacha for Wednesday 24 Shevat 5779 January 30 2019

Demanding Parents

In the previous Halacha, we have quoted the words of the Rambam and Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch that one may not over-burden one children and be excessively demanding of honor from them so as not to cause one’s children to transgress certain prohibitions. Rather, one should forgive them and ignore the lack of honor, for a father may, in fact, absolve his children from honoring him.

We should make mention of what Hagaon Harav Chaim Palagi writes in his Sefer Tochachat Chaim: “I have heard from some empty and reckless people who do not fulfill the Mitzvah of honoring their parents hide behind the nonsensical that this Mitzvah was said only regarding parents who are flexible and show love to their children but not regarding parents who are exacting, meddling, quarrelsome, and over-burdening. All these claims are baseless, for if so, the Torah would never have had to warn us about the Mitzvah of honoring one’s parents, for since they brought him into the world, fed him, and clothed him until he grew up, one must be grateful and honor them all one’s life, even if they seem like foreign people because of the goodness that they bestowed upon him in his youth. Our Sages have already taught that if one is ungrateful to one’s fellow, it is tantamount to being ungrateful to Hashem. Perforce, the Torah meant to teach us that even if one’s parents are difficult and demanding people with bad character traits, even so, one must honor and revere them and one may certainly not aggravate or distress them.”

This means that were the Mitzvah of honoring one’s parents to be applicable only to good and loving parents, the Torah’s commandment to honor one’s parents would be almost superfluous since we are, in any case, obligated to behave with gratitude to anyone that has done good to us. Certainly then, the Torah’s warning to honor one’s parents is primarily directed towards parents who do not treat their children properly and in spite of this, their children must still treat their parents with honor and reverence.

In the laws of Yom Kippur, we have mentioned the words of great Sephardic Poskim, among them Maran zt”l, that anyone who is G-d-fearing must approach his parents on Erev Yom Kippur, kiss their hands, and beg their forgiveness for showing them a lack of respect throughout the year. Rabbeinu Yosef Haim writes that every person is obligated to do this and anyone who does not do so is considered a sinner and one who treats the honor of his parents disparagingly, for if regarding regular sins between man and his fellow one is obligated to ask his friend for forgiveness before Yom Kippur, how much more so is this true regarding one’s parents since it is almost impossible not to transgress this sin every day of the year.

Maran zt”l writes that it is appropriate for any son who is intelligent to capitalize on these precious Mitzvot of honoring one’s parents to the best of his ability, to gladden their hearts, and to do whatever they wish and request. Hashem shall reward him, measure for measure, in that he will also merit having worthy children who will gladden him with their wisdom and their Torah. Even if they absolve the son from honoring them, the Sefer Chassidim writes that even if a father absolves his son from honoring him, the son is absolved from doing so only according the laws of man; according to Heavenly law, however, the son is still obligated. Similarly, the Radbaz writes that even when a father absolves his son from honoring him, if the son nevertheless honors the father, he still fulfills a Torah commandment.

We have seen several elderly people, who, in their youth, excelled in the Mitzvah of honoring their parents and even allowed their elderly parents to live in their homes and in the merit of this tremendous Mitzvah, they merited longevity for themselves. Even their children led long and healthy lives and they too were able to honor their parents every single day. This issue of taking care of one’s elderly parents is a great merit for anyone as it incorporates a priceless Torah commandment, the opportunity to refine one’s character traits, and exposing one’s children to several invaluable Mitzvot, all at once. This also constitutes the Mitzvot of Tzedakah and performing acts of loving-kindness. There is certainly boundless reward in store for those who avail themselves of this precious Mitzvah.

Indeed, our Sages taught in Masechet Yoma (86a): “When one studies the written and oral Torah, serves Torah scholars, and conducts himself pleasantly with people, what do people say about him? Fortunate is his father who has taught him Torah! Fortunate is his rabbi who has taught him Torah! See how worthy are the deeds of so-and-so who has learned Torah! About him does the verse say, ‘Israel, through whom I am glorified.’” All this serves to add to the honor and spiritual gratification of the parents.

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