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How do I fulfill my obligation of honoring my father and mother?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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– “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12). “Honor your G-d” (Proverbs 3:9). The Torah uses the same terminology for these two commandments, thus equating honoring parents to honoring G-d.

– Honoring parents is one of the rational Mitzvahs of the Torah, one which an intelligent, moral person would observe even if G-d had not commanded so. After all, no matter how much respect a child accords his parents, he can never repay them for bringing him into this world and the patient, loving care he enjoyed in his childhood. Still, since G-d gave us the Ten Commandments, and honoring parents became one of the 613 commandments, we now honor parents  not because it is the logical thing to do, but because this is G-d’s command. Therefore, when a parent requests of a child to do something which is forbidden by Torah, this request must be disregarded. The same G-d who commanded us to honor parents commanded us to disregard any request which violates the rules of Torah.

– “Honor your father and mother”
Honor entails:
1. Serving all their needs and assisting them in whatever way possible: feeding them, dressing them, transporting them, etc.*1
2. Rising to one’s feet whenever a parent enters the room. One should remain standing until the parent has sat down or is no longer within eyesight.2

– “Every man shall revere his mother and his father” (Leviticus 19:3)
Reverence entails:
1. Not standing or sitting in a place which is designated for a parent.3
2. Not disagreeing with parents when in their presence. Even when not in their presence, an opposing opinion must be expressed in a respectful manner.4
3. Not agreeing with parents in their presence. Agreeing with an opinion indicates that the opinion is incomplete on its own, and needs to be supported by the second opinion. It is disrespectful for a child to imply that a parent requires his agreement.5
4. Not calling parents, or referring to parents, by their first name. This rule applies even to a deceased parent.**6

– Parents are permitted to forgo the honor due to them – for example, to allow children not to stand up for them.

– One is also obligated to respect his step-parent – i.e., his parent’s spouse - as long as his parent is alive (and it’s nice to do so even afterwards), parents-in-law, grandparents, and older siblings.


*The parents’ funds may be used to render all these services, e.g. to pay for their food and clothing. The child isn’t obligated to expend his own, personal money to fulfill this Mitzvah. If, however, parents are impoverished and the child has the means to support them, a Jewish court can compel the child to support his parents. The reasoning is that the child is obligated to give charity – and his parents certainly take precedence over all other poor people.

**If one is asked for his parent’s name -- for example, if the gabbai wants to know his father's name in order to call him up to the Torah, he is permitted to answer.

Footnotes

  • 1. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 143:3
  • 2. ibid 7
  • 3. ibid 2
  • 4. ibid 2
  • 5. ibid 2
  • 6. Yoreh Deah 240:2

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Miscellaneous
Torah » 10 Commandments
Holidays » Shavuot » 10 Commandments

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Proverbs
One of the 24 books of the Bible. A collection of moral writings authored by King Solomon.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
Leviticus
The third of the Five Books of Moses. This book deals with the service (of the Levite Tribe) in the Tabernacle, and contains many of the 613 commandments.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.