Father’s Day and the fifth commandment

I never knew that we had a Father’s Day in Israel, but according to Wikipedia “In Israel, Father’s day is called “Yom ha-av” and is usually celebrated on May 1 together with Workers’ Day or labour Day.” This is another proof that Wikipedia could not be trusted for reliable information. The truth is that in Israel we don’t have Father’s Day, or Mother’s Day, only the most parve Family Day.

In the US, Father and Mother’s Day are celebrated on Sunday, so that families could have an opportunity to enjoy that time on their day off. Today, the third Sunday in June, is Father’s Day.

While honoring parents one day a year is quite simple and could even be enjoyable, it is much harder the other 363 days of the year. Here is an essay that I wrote some time ago about the special difficulties with the fifth commandment.


The fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you,” is the first, among the ten, which addresses inter-personal relationship. And it doesn’t concern all connections, but specifically the relationship between children and their parents.

This commandment has two versions, the first one: Exodus 20, which I quoted above, promises, as a reward, long life to the one who obeys it.  The second  from Deuteronomy 5, stresses that it is God’s will: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

Lately I have been thinking about the significance of the fifth commandment and wondered whether it came naturally to children to honor their father and mother. In Hebrew the words “honor” and “respect” stem from the same root.  Thus, the Biblical text reads “respect thy father and thy mother.” It seems that in English the commandment  has a slightly different meaning as the word “honor” brings in additional connotations.

Here I choose to translate the word as “to respect” — meaning to feel or show deferential regard for, esteem.

The fifth commandment doesn’t require that we feel high, or special, regard toward our parents, but rather that we act respectfully.

Usually, at one point during adolescence parents stop being their children’s heroes. Many of them never manage to attain that high position ever again. As parents, rationally, we understand that in order to become their own persons children need to view their parents critically (as Freud showed so brilliantly in “The Killing of the Father”). Still, it is not easy to lose that admiration.

From that point on, for most of our adult life, and especially as we age, we have to live with our children’s censure. I don’t know if they no longer respect us, but they question our actions, criticize our opinions and are impatient with our poor technological skills.

I asked several friends how they felt about their own parents and the    fifth commandment. Most answered that they showed respect to their parents and they appreciated what they had done for them. But often those adult children had reservations about their parents and were critical of them as human beings: they were too conservative, too stingy, too cold etc. I am afraid that, for many years, I too respected my father mostly for what he had done for me.

Although it is only an anecdotal survey, it raises interesting questions.

Now and then, when I see people my own age with their elderly parents and hear them talk to the parents as though they were misbehaving kids, I realize how hard it is to obey the fifth commandment. Clearly, being  patient and respectful to one’s parents at all times is impossible. We often find our parents especially wanting when we are unhappy.

Still the Bible doesn’t ask who our parents are, and whether or not they are worthy of our respect, it orders us to “just do it.”

Happy Father’s Day!

About the Author
I hold a PhD in English Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, specializing in writing about issues related to women, literature, culture, and society. Having lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994), I bring a diverse perspective to my work. As a widow, in March 2016, I initiated a support and growth-oriented Facebook group for widows named "Widows Move On." The group has now grown to over 2000 members, providing a valuable space for mutual support and understanding.
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