The Aseres Hadibros, read last week, are, logically, a microcosm of the entire Torah. Whether or not we assume Rav Saadyah Gaon’s chiddush that we can actually extrapolate all of the 613 mitzvos from these ten, certainly they must be fundamental and elemental commandments. Thus, we should certainly endeavor to understand why each of them is of such great significance.
Let us look at the fifth commandment, kibbud av va’eim. Kibbud is universally translated as “honor” or “respect,” and, contrary to the common and mistaken assumption, actually does not refer to obedience per se. Rather, it refers to filling needs the parents may have: in the words of Chazal, we feed them, clothe them and care for them. We honor them by caring for them, by providing them with their needs. [To further explain–obviously, parents do all of the above to their children, as they are growing up. That, however, is not a manifestation of honor! It is merely a function of parental responsibility, as the child cannot care for himself. When children do these same things for their parents, when the children are fulfilling this mitzvah, it is a function of honor, putting the parents on a pedestal of sorts, attending to them and serving them.] The companion mitzvah of ‘morah av va’eim,’ is to revere them, exalt them and show deference to them. This carries its own obligations and prohibitions, for example, not to contradict them, not to sit in their place; in fact, many opinions put the obedience aspect of children’s relationship with their parents under the heading of morah, rather than kibbud.
Probably the most puzzling aspect of kibbud av va’eim is the fact that it appears together with the set of mitzvos, which are all bein adam la’Mokom (between man and G-d), which is the essential message of the first five commandments. [The second five are patently bein adam lachaveiro, and therein certainly lies a tremendous moral lesson– the equivalency with which Hashem equated these two different categories of mitzvos. Exactly what that teaches us, and what we are to do with that lesson, requires a column of its own.]
Now why is that? Certainly, we would assume, and logic dictates, that kibbud av va’eim is primarily establishing what I “owe,” or should do for, my parents (which is after all its practical manifestation). So how is that to be something governing man’s relationship with G-D?
We find a hint of an answer to this question in the Rambam, who writes (Hilchos Mamrim 6:7) “To what degree is the obligation of honoring one’s parents? Even if a parent were to take one’s wallet and hurl it into a raging sea, he may not shame the parent, or cause them any pain, or get angry at them, rather, one should accept the decree of Hashem and be quiet. To what degree is the obligation to revere them? Even if one were sitting amongst the prominent people of his community, dressed in his finery, and a parent came, tore his clothes, struck him, and spat at him–he should not embarrass the parent, rather, he should be still and fear Hakodosh Baruch Hu who has commanded him to act in this manner. Moreover, he should contemplate –if an earthly King had given him such instructions, or about something even more painful, he would be unable (or afraid) to disobey him; all the more should be the case towards the One King Who created all. ”
What does the Rambam mean? If the concept of kibbud av va’eim were bein odom lachaveiro, certainly it would be illogical to establish such guidelines for the mitzvah. Bein adam lachaveiro does not demand such a negation of self! Moreover, bein adam lachaveiro is never described as gezeiras hakasuv. Sometimes, certain specific applications of a law might involve something not immediately seen as logical or reasonable. Nevertheless, the Rambam here refers to the substance of the obligation and mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim! There is certainly no explicit gezeiras hakasuv regarding the cases of which the Rambam speaks! This assumption that the Rambam makes is based on the position of this commandment on the luchos. As such, it cannot be bound by the usual framework of a bein adam lachaveiro.
Yet this does not explain the crux of the matter. What is kibbud av va’eim if not a mitzvah bein adam lachaveiro?
The Gemara actually gives us a glimpse into understanding this matter, by referring to the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents as something the Torah equates with honoring G-d. The awe and reverence that we are to feel towards our parents is equal and similar to the awe and reverence we are to feel towards Hashem. The Gemara then says–and this is eminently appropriate and logical–for Chazal talk in other places how Hashem and one’s parents are partners in the makeup of a person, with each one (G-d, mother and father) contributing a specific aspect of the person’s physical (and presumably emotional and psychological ) being. In addition, we find in other places that the Gemara considers it possible that, due to this “equation,” one has to obey one’s parents even when they tell the person to disobey Hashem! (Only from a different passuk do we learn that that is not so.) How can this be?
The answer, the key to understanding this very difficult mitzvah (as the Gemara describes it), is to be found in the Sefer Hachinuch, (Mitzvah 33, Kibbud Av va’Eim.)
The Chinuch writes that a person must give honor and respect to one’s parents because “it is only fitting that a person show recognition towards one who has brought him into the world, has showered him with so much benevolence, and has taken care of him when he was unable to fend for himself. Only a person of base character, a lowly person, a detestable person would refrain from expressing his gratitude. As a person perfects this aspect and attribute of his essence, he will then progress to having proper gratitude towards Hashem, Who is the first cause of all that exists… Hashem created him, brought him into the world, sustained him… gave him all his physical attributes… seichel, sense, rational thought, reasoning… spiritual attributes, without which man would be but an animal…” Certainly, the kovod one gives one’s parents is a training ground for one’s personal avodas Hashem.
To be continued…