Conflicts Between G-d and Parents: Truth Is Chosen Over truth

One example of how religion commands us to embrace Truth over truth is the requirement to obey G-d over parents. On the one hand, the Sefer Hachinuch makes clear how important it is to honor our parents. honor father and mother image

 Among the bases of this commandment [Honoring one’s father and mother] is the fact that it is proper that a person recognize and bestow kindness upon one who has done him good. A person should realize that his mother and father are the cause of his being in the world, and therefore it is truly proper that he render them all the honor and do them all the service he can (commandment 33).

Yet Judaism draws a very clear line defining the limits of filial obedience. The crucial Biblical line is Leviticus 19:3: “You shall revere his mother and father and keep My Sabbaths, I the Lord am your God.”  From here we learn that honoring G-d trumps honoring parents.

 One might think that the commandment of filial piety overrides the commandment of the Sabbath, therefore the Torah writes the Sabbath second to teach that everyone [including parents] are obligated in the Honor of G-d (Yevamot 5b).

Maimonides codifies this law and states:

 If a father tells his child to go against the word of the Torah, either to perform a negative commandment or to disregard a positive commandment, even if it be a Rabbinic commandment, a child shall disobey, as it is written: “You shall revere your father and mother and keep My Sabbaths”— [teaching us] that all [including parents] are obligated to honor G-d (Hilchot Mamrim 6:12).

In a sense we learn that eternal truths trump temporal truths. Sometimes people ask us to sacrifice our core values to maintain a relationship. The Torah teaches that we must stick to our principles amidst these trying times. The strongest relationships are those where both parties respect each other’s core values and support each other.

Of course the gifts of parents and G-d are interwoven. In a profound Midrash, we learn how G-d and parents partner to create a child.

Our rabbis taught: There are three partners in (making) a person: the Holy One, the father, and the mother. The father supplies the seed of the white substance out of which are formed the child’s bones, sinews, nails, the brain in his head and the white of his eye; the mother supplies the seed of the red substance out of which is formed his skin, flesh, hair, blood, and the black of the eye; and the Holy One gives the child spirit (ruach), and soul (neshamah), beauty of features, eyesight and the power of hearing, and the ability to speak and to walk, understanding and discernment. When his time to depart from the world approaches, the Holy One takes away his share and leaves the shares of his father and mother with them (Niddah 31a).

Each person must express gratitude to G-d and one’s parents for their existence. In the end, our biological features will remain on the earth and only our eternal characteristics will truly remain. Spiritual life is about cultivating those eternal qualities.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash (Jewish pluralistic adult learning & leadership), the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek (Jewish Social Justice), the Founder and CEO of Shamayim (Jewish animal advocacy), the Founder and President of YATOM, (Jewish foster and adoption network), and the author of seventeen books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.