The severity of disrespecting one’s parents is indeed very grave; more serious that what it may seem to people. The Mekubalim describe lengthy atonement processes for various sins, such as if one swore falsely, which is understandably a great sin, one may atone for this by fasting thirty-seven fasts to atone for one’s transgression (we are not discussing what one should actually do in this generation that is weaker than previous ones). The great Mekubalim who understood the extent of the spiritual damage that results from each sin knew to ascribe the atonement process for each sin. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l recounted that many people would go to the great Mekubal, Hagaon Harav Efraim Ha’Kohen zt”l (father of Hagaon Harav Shalom Cohen Shlit”a, Rosh Yeshivat Porat Yosef) and he would assign various atonement processes for the people who came to him.
If one humiliates one’s father or mother, the Sefer Charedim writes that one must fast sixty fasts in order to atone for this sin. We can clearly see the gravity of the sin of one who is not careful with one’s parents’ respect. Fortunate is one who is careful with this Mitzvah, for the attribute of reward is far greater than the attribute of punishment.
Let us now discuss the custom of Maran zt”l who honored his parents tremendously. He especially honored his mother in a unique manner because he was grateful for the fact that when he toiled in Torah study in his youth, she would take his place working in his father’s store. She would likewise always encourage him to immerse himself in his Torah study. Although they were extremely poor, she would always save some expensive chocolates and other sweets and give them to him when he concluded his daily study. In this way, Maran was encouraged to continue in his quest of Torah knowledge while other children his age went on to work and enjoy the pleasures of this world.
When Maran zt”l was appointed as a judge in the rabbinical court in Petach Tikvah, he was presented with the special rabbinical coat called a “frock.” Maran zt”l made sure to wear this coat for the first time in the presence of his mother so that she should witness his rise to greatness and be proud of her son. Maran would always make sure to visit her at home and gladden her heart. Even after her passing, Maran would mention her admiringly in the introductions to his various works.
Based on the above, one must be prepared to honor one’s parents in any and all circumstances, even if it is quite difficult to do so, for instance, even if they are disgruntled people or if they are, G-d-forbid, ill and caring for them is very time-consuming. One who honors one’s parents shall merit and long and fulfilled life and one’s children shall honor him in turn. Fortunate are those communities whose custom it is to take their elderly parents into their home and provide for all of their needs in a most dignified manner. May they merit all of the blessings of the Torah.