By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Klal Yisroel loves Segulos. We run for this Segulah and that Segulah. But there is another Segulah that is mentioned in the Torah that really works. It is the Mitzvah of Kivud Av v’Aim — honoring one’s parents. The Torah itself assures us that one who is careful with it will merit long life.
The Talmud Yerushalmi writes that honoring parents is of the loftiest of Mitzvos. A person is exempt from the observance of other Mitzvos when he is busy taking care of his parents. Indeed, the Aruch haShulchan writes (YD 240:36) that the exemption applies even if he is just waiting to perform the Kivud Av’ V’Aim. We do not find this in regard to any other Mitzvah!
Categorizing The Mitzvah
The actions, steps and procedures of this fundamental Mitzvah can be categorized into two types — those obligatory in nature, and those that are more of a voluntary or elective nature. They can also be categorized further — issues of Kavod — honor and issues of Moreh, perhaps best translated as dishonoring. Kavod is in the Ten Commandments. Dis-honoring is in Sefer VaYikra in Parshas Kedoshim.
Who and to Whom
Males and females are equally obligated in this Mitzvah. The Gemorah in Krisus (28a) tells us that the obligation extends equally to both the father and mother as well.
We are required to perform Mitzvos with the proper intentions. What does this mean? We do it because it is the commandment of the Creator. What if we do it because it is a good, proper, and ethical thing to do? Good question. It depends. If we conceive of Hashem (as we should conceive Him) as the source and essence of all good — then the intent is valid and proper. If this is not our conception of Hashem — then we have two problems: One — we have an incorrect notion of Hashem; and two — we didn’t properly fulfill the Mitzvah.
Nor should we be nice to our parents to get a proper Yerushah — inheritance — or so that we not be cut off in the will. Both the Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya specifically warn about these ill intentions. The Malbim even goes a step further. He writes that we should not even fulfill the Mitzvah because of the reward promised in the Torah!
Is the Mitzvah of honoring parents a Mitzvah between man and Hashem or between man and man? The Minchas Chinuch poses this question (Mitzvah #33). The fact that it appears on the right side of the Ten Commandments indicates that it is a Mitzvah between man and Hashem. The Ramban points this out. The Rambam in his commentary to the Mishna (Peah 1:1) indicates that it is between man and man. The Meshech Chochma (beginning of Parshas Kedoshim) writes that it is primarily a Mitzvah between man and man but has elements between man and the Divine in it. What’s the difference? If it is between man and man — Yom Kippur doesn’t atone for it — one must ask forgiveness from one’s parents.
For Parents Only
The Shulchan Aruch (YD 240:19) also gives parents guidelines as to their relationship with the children. The Sefer Chassidim states that they shouldn’t get their children angry. Nor should they demand things of them that are too difficult. In general, they should forgive them for things that they may have done wrong. Of course, this last paragraph should not be pointed to by children as an attack or critique on their parents – heaven forbid.
When Father or Mother Did Nothing
The following paragraph is one of the most challenging to fulfill. There is a sentiment out there that states, “My father contributed nothing toward raising me. It was all my mother — he never gave her a nickel so I will NOT repeat NOT honor that man.” The sentiment is incorrect. The Mesech Chochma (Dvarim 5:16) writes that we honor parents as Hashem has commanded us — that even if they abandoned us we must honor them in accordance with the will of Hashem. Thus, a child given up for adoption must still honor his biological parents (See Ksav Sofer Dvarim 5:16).
If the Father is a Rasha
The Shulchan Aruch (YD 240:18) holds that even if the father is a wicked man — the Mitzvah of honoring them and refraining from disrespect still exists. Of course one cannot violate a prohibition while doing so. The Ramah, however, dissents from this view and holds that one is only obligated in this if the father has repented. Rav Elyashiv ruled that one should be stringent and follow the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch in cases where the father’s sin was because of Taavah – desire. He ruled that the general irreligious parent (or chiloni) is subsumed under this category.
There is also a Mitzvah to honor one’s parents after they have passed away. Rav Elyashiv ruled that in a place where it is a Minhag to name after the grandparents – this is a fulfillment of this concept.
Within 12 months after a parent’s passing, it is a Mitzvah to say the words, “Hareini kaparas mishkavo (or mishkava)” whenever mentioning one’s parent. After 12 months we say, “zichrono (or zichrona) livracha.”
The recitation of Kaddish is also a fulfillment of Kivud Av v’Aim after they have passed away.
Honoring Parents: Thought, Speech and Action
Thought — The Chayei Adam (67:3) writes that there is an obligation to view their parents as Gedolim and the most honorable in the land — even if they are not viewed as such by others. [See a similar view in Sefer Chassidim #89]. This author once asked Rav Dovid Kviat zatzal how this could be, if it may not be the case. He responded that it, in fact, is the case when we consider the specific personal hurdles and challenges that they overcame. It is the obligation of the child to view his parents achievements in light of the personal hurdles. Thus, for example, a woman who raised her children with Torah values and Mitzvos when facing the daunting assimilation of others that surround her — is truly a Gadol and the most honorable in the land. This is just one example — there are many.
Love — The Zohar (Parshas Ki Saitzay 281) writes that a person is obligated to love his parents more so than his body, soul, spirit, and being. Whatever a person owns should be like nothing when it comes to fulfilling the wishes of his parents. Rashi in Shoftim (6:11) demonstrates that Gideon merited receiving both communication from an angel and leadership solely because he gave of himself to protect his father. Yoseph HaTzaddik merited leadership on account of the perspective that he had when he went to greet his father (Yalkut Shimoni VaYigash 47:157)
Speech — Children must speak softly to their parents, in a calm tone, and using the most honorable terminology and modes of address. (See Kiddushin 30a,b). On the other hand, if one speaks abusively to one’s parents he or she will earn a place in Gehenam, rachmana litzlan.
Action — The Mishna Brurah (301:4) indicates that, if possible, it is a Mitzvah to greet one’s parents every day. There are also numerous actions that are obvious that must be done regularly, for example, taking out the garbage for them regularly – without being asked; offering them drinks or food; requesting if there is anything they need in terms of shopping, mail, etc.
The author can be reached at email@example.com