A theoretical question was once posed in a group discussion in which I was participating. The participants were practicing Jews, parents with children of all ages. They were asked:
“If your child proclaims that he’s no longer interested in living as a practicing Jew, but he is willing to adhere to one ‘mitzvah’ of your preference, what would you choose?
When I first heard this question I thought, “That’s a pretty loaded question, how can someone choose one mitzvah over another? Who can define what ‘worth’ a particular mitzvah has…?”
Indeed, we can’t define. However, there are some ‘hints’ that can lead us to insights, or at the least give us a bit of ‘food for thought’.
Back to the basics; that’s where I would begin.
We’re approaching the holiday of Shavuot in which we commemorate receiving the Ten Commandments, the crux of Judaism.
The fifth commandment is ‘Honor thy father and thy mother…’
Our first lead would be the placement of this commandment. ‘Honoring parents’ is set in a spot that connects between the first commandments that deal with our relationship with G-d, and the latter ones which deal with human/social issues.
Being so strategically placed is an indication of the essence of this commandment – it incorporates both aspects. Understanding this connection brings us to the realization that parents aren’t just people who chanced to come into our lives (it’s we who came into their lives and should be forever grateful to them for putting up with us…). Rather, they have a G-d given status, certainly one that deserves respect and honor. It’s not a temporary status but rather all-encompassing throughout life.
There are very few aspects in our lives that are not affected by the relationship we have with our parents. Therefore, the Torah clearly stipulates the preferred attitude that a child should have towards his parents.
The second point to ponder is that in contrast to most of the other commandments, this is one of the few that has a promise of due reward for those who uphold it. This additional lead raises our awareness regarding the importance of the concept.
Interestingly, as awesome as it is, the instructions are rather simple and the ramifications are spelled out clearly as well.
“Lemaan yaarichun yamecha u’lemaan yitav lach” relates not only to the promise of a long life. In addition to longevity, there is also promise of a good life. Honoring parents brings added quality and value to life.
This added value is manifested in all future relationships that a person will experience in the course of a lifetime.
Acquiring the ability to be respectful, considerate and cooperative can go a long way in marriage, workplace, friendships, and just about any social interaction that a person experiences throughout his life. Aside from being advantageous to the individual, it is also the basis for a healthy functioning society. It’s what makes the world go round-in the right direction of course. Practicing this attitude naturally begins at childhood, on ‘home turf’ within the parent-child relationship.
The opportunity to build healthy relationships is the gift that “Kibud Horim” offers us. Even if a child opts for a different path or lifestyle, by adhering to ‘kibud horim’ he will nonetheless continue to be connected to his roots. It is basic nature that growth can be attained only by a connection to roots. A leaf that disconnects from the tree loses its’ vitality and eventually wilts and withers away. The connection to the source is essential to growth and development; and in humans it’s vital to emotional as well as physical development. Kibud Horim is the connection that will keep him committed to positive dynamics with his parents no matter what path he chooses.
It would seem that something as serious as honoring parents can only be implemented by serious in-depth learning. Albeit, there is much to be learned and delved into; but the bottom line is rather elementary. In a nutshell, it’s – no ‘if’s and no ‘but’s, just accepting that there are no terms or conditions to honoring parents. It’s as simple as that. Realizing this is taking a monumental step towards a life of value and meaning, and from there the sky’s the limit.