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The Great Mitzvah of Honouring Ones Parents

By David Joseph

The “Holy Jew” of Peshischa (Rav Yaakov Yitzhak Rabinovitch zt’l) was once learning Torah with his students, when they reached a most difficult question. The Rabbi delved into the issue and did not pay attention to his surroundings; the students too, tried their hand at understanding the problem, but without success. They waited impatiently to hear the explanation from their admired Rabbi, but he was still engrossed in his study.

One of his students was feeling hungry, and his hunger was distracting him. He said to himself: “The Rabbi will probably continue learning for a while, meantime I can go home to mother and grab something to eat, as it is, now that I’m hungry I can’t concentrate properly, and if the hunger persists – how can I continue learning ?” With that thought he ran home, ate quickly and hurried back to the Beit Midrash. As he reached the door, his mother turned to him and requested; “ Please my son ! Can you go up to the attic and bring down a bundle of wood so I can warm the house, you know I cannot climb myself”. “But mother”, answered the young man, “ I have to return to the Beit Midrash right away, the Rabbi is going finish his study at any moment and begin his explanation, and I don’t want to miss it”. “Ok my son, go back to your studies” said the mother, “forgive me for asking you to interrupt your study, but you understand that I am alone and sometimes I need your help”…

With her words ringing in his ears, he left the house towards the Beit Midrash. At first, he walked briskly, fearing he will miss his Rabbi’s teaching, but suddenly he slowed down, until he stood still in a panic.

“What am I learning?!” he asked himself a poignant question,“ for what purpose am I rushing to the Beit Midrash? Is it so I can learn more and more? What good will I achieve by adding more and more knowledge? Indeed, the whole purpose of learning is in order to practice what we learn!! And now, I didn’t fulfill my widowed mother’s request. I learned the law of ‘Honour your father and mother’, and I know all the laws by heart ,when it came to practice them, what did I do? I left my mother’s house alone and did not do her request” !

He quickly turned around and went back home to help his mother. “Mother, here is the wood you requested, forgive me for not doing it when you asked”. A smile of satisfaction spread on her face, and she joyfully said: “Thank you my son, now go back to your studies, with the hope that you didn’t miss a word of your Rabbi’s teaching”.

With a light and happy heart, he made his way back to the Beit Midrash. “Please, Hashem, let me have the merit to hear the Rabbi’s explanation of the issue” he said in a silent prayer, “Help me not to be late”.

With trembling hands, he opened the door to the Beit Midrash, silence was in the room.

The Rabbi was still engrossed in his learning. Behold, as soon as the door opened the Rabbi lifted his holy eyes from the book, and with a smile on his face, looked at the student standing in the doorway. “Do you know who is accompanying you now ?” Asked the Rabbi. The orphaned young man lowered his eyes on confusion. His fellow students looked at their friend but saw no one at his side.

“Tell me,” said the Rabbi “what important mitzvah did you just perform, that you merited such an important escort?” The young man remained embarrassingly silent. “When you walked in, I saw the great Amora (Talmudic sage) Abayey accompanying you.

As soon as he entered, he opened my eyes to answer the question I was deliberating for such a long time.

So please tell me what important mitzvah did you just perform?”

Then, the young man answered in a low voice and told everything they had transpired in the past hour. “I understood that I made a mistake, and so I returned to my mother to fulfill her request” he concluded his story.

“Now it is clear as day why you merited the escort of Abayey, because Abayey was orphaned from both his mother and father and his name was an acronym of

“אֲשֶׁר־בְּךָ֖ יְרֻחַ֥ם יָתֽוֹם – In you alone, shall the orphans find mercy” ( הושע 14.4 ). He, did not merit to perform the mitzvah of “Honouring his father and mother”, that is why after his passing, he has a custom to accompany those who merit to perform this mitzvah properly, for he has a strong yearning to join them and take part in this important mitzvah” !!

The Torah (שמות 20.12) states,

כַּבֵּ֥ד אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֑ךָ לְמַ֙עַן֙ יַאֲרִכ֣וּן יָמֶ֔יךָ

“Honour your father and your mother so you will live long”. Rabbeinu b’Chaya writes, “we clearly see that those who honour their parents live long, and/ or have success and serenity in all areas”.

Chazal tell us (קידושין 39ב);

שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא – “There is no reward in this world for the mitzvot”. The reward for the mitzvot is given on Olam Haba, because the world is too small to contain the immense rewards for keeping the mitzvot. But, there are some mitzvot for which we reap their fruits in this world. Honouring ones parents is one of them.

The Sefer Meshech Chachmah tells us that the Beit Hamikdash was built on the tribe of Binyamin property because he was the only brother who didn’t cause Yaakov Avinu distress, for he wasn’t present when Yossef was sold.

The Gemara in Masechet Kiddushin 30b tells us: “Our sages taught, the Torah states; כַּבֵּד אֶת־אָבִיךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּךָ – “Honour your father and mother”, and it also states, כַּבֵּד אֶת־ה׳ מֵהוֹנֶךָ – “Honour Hashem with your wealth” ( משלי 3.9). The Torah equates honouring ones parent’s to honouring Hashem. The Torah further states; אִישׁ אִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו תִּירָאוּ – “Each shall revere his mother and father” (ויקרא 19.3), and it also states, אֶת־ה׳ אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ תִּירָ֖א – “You shall fear Hashem your God” (דברים 6.13).

This means that Hashem treats honouring one’s parents so stringently that He actually associated the honour and reverence showed to parents to his own honour and reverence.

There is a very intrinsic link between a person’s appreciation of his parents and his appreciation of Hashem. If a person’s human parents are deserving of honour for bringing him physically into this world and caring for his needs throughout his childhood and adult years, how much much more must we honour Hashem for giving him life and providing all of his earthly and spiritual requirements throughout his life. Furthermore, Hashem’s beneficence extends beyond the physical, our neshama gives us the ability to live an eternal life of value through Torah and mitzvot, is given by only by Hashem.

The word for כַּבֵּד / honour, has the same numerical value of the name of Hashem which is 26.

Rabbi Eliezer was asked, “To what extent must one honour one’s parents?” He answered, “Take a look at what a certain non- Jew from Ashkelon by the name of Dama ben Netina did. Once, the sages requested a certain stone for the apron (worn by the Cohen Gadol) from him for the sum of 600,000 golden dinars. The key for the safe where the stone were placed lay under the pillow of his sleeping father. In order not to disturb his father, he did not awaken him. The next year, Hashem rewarded him him by making a red heifer to be born in his flock, which he proceeded to sell to the sages for the same amount that he lost for his father’s honour.

The Gemara (קידושין 31א) recounts that once, Dama ben Natina was once adorned with the golden vestments usually worn by Rome’s highest officials and was sitting among respected dignitaries when his mother arrived, tore his clothing, whacked him on the head and spat at him, yet, he did not humiliate her in return. The Gemara mentions another incident with Rabbi Tarfon that whenever his mother would need to get onto or off of her bed, Rabbi Tarfon would kneel in order for her to step on his back (he would act like a “stool”).

Maran Rabbeinu Yosef Karo in his shulchan Aruch ( יורה דעה – סימן 240 ) introduces the laws of honouring one’s parents by saying, “for this is indeed a precious mitzvah and one can easily fail in its performance.”

Thus, one must be extremely careful to fulfill this mitzvah to the best of one’s capabilities.

לעילוי נשמת ראובן בן סאלם יוסף זצ׳ל

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