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Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons

פרשת תזריע-מצורע, תשפ״א

Parshat Tazria-M'tzora, 5781

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

Honor, Revering, and Listening to Parents

How do you respect your parents? For those who are parents in the room, when do you feel respected by your children?

For the past month, on the Shabbatot between Passover and celebrating Israel, we have been learning about different commandments from Leviticus’ “Holiness Code,” a series of verses that are introduced by God’s command - “Be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy.” This weekend, we will explore the hows and the whys of honoring and revering parents, starting from one central commandment:

אישׁ אמו ואביו תיראו

Each person shall revere his father and his mother (Leviticus 19:3). Where have we heard a commandment like this before? The 10 Commandments!

כַּבֵּ֥ד אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֑ךָ לְמַ֙עַן֙ יַאֲרִכ֣וּן יָמֶ֔יךָ עַ֚ל הָאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be long and so that you will fare well upon the land that Adonai your God is giving to you (Deuteronomy 5:16).

In addition to these commandments, the book of Proverbs presents respect of parents in the form of advice:

שְׁמַ֣ע לְ֭אָבִיךָ זֶ֣ה יְלָדֶ֑ךָ וְאַל־תָּ֝ב֗וּז כִּֽי־זָקְנָ֥ה אִמֶּֽךָ׃

Listen to your father who begot you, and do not disdain your mother when she becomes old (Proverbs 23:22). Our Biblical verses present respect of parents as awe, honor, listening, and refraining from embarrassment. As we will learn in a portion of Gemara tomorrow, awe and honor of parents is seen in the Jewish tradition as just as holy as awe and honor of God. Speaking disrespectfully to parents is just as shameful as speaking disrespectfully to the Divine. Just as our various ways of honoring God are broad, our categories of awe, honor, listening, and refraining from embarrassment are broad. In each of our parent-child relationships, reverence must look different; truly listening to a parent’s wants and needs can point us towards how to best fulfill the commandments to show them reverence and honor, in their life and in their death.

Thankfully, we do have some halakhic instruction to point us towards proper respect of our parents. The Babylonian Talmud’s Tractate Kiddushin asks the question - what is the difference between the commanded honor and awe (sometimes translated as fear) of parents?

Awe of one’s parent includes the following: One may not stand or sit in his fixed place, and may not contradict his statements, and may not choose sides when his parent argues with someone else. What is considered honor? He gives his parent food and drink, dresses and covers him, and brings him in and takes him out for all his household needs.

Note that the Talmud does not instruct us to agree with everything that one’s parent says. In fact, the Talmud doesn’t even tell us to do everything a parent says. Rather, one simply must not embarrass him by disparaging his opinion in front of others.

Commenting on a later verse in Leviticus, “If anyone insults his father or mother, he should be put to death,” (20:9), the Rambam teaches that this instruction against insulting parents extends to after the parents’ death. While we may express disagreement with our parents, even frustration with their actions, we are obligated to speak of and to them with the same consciousness and reverence we use in speech towards God.

When the Rabbis speak of reverence in terms of sitting in Mom’s chair or standing in Mom’s corner of the room, they reveal the importance of paying attention to the little things that frustrate or delight a parent. If my mother hates whistling, as she does, I might make an effort not to whistle in her presence. If my father absolutely loves talking about the weather, which he does, I can describe the intricacies of Shreveport’s humidity and precipitation whenever he calls. When our parents grow older, our honor of them obligates us to take care of them by feeding them, clothing them, and driving them to doctors appointments. Quite likely, they fed us, clothed us, and drove us around at some point in time; what a gift to return those favors! Eventually, when the time comes, our knowledge of their needs and wants will help to guide us in how to best take care of them after life, as well.

And for those of you who are parents, remember that you deserve the honor of care, as well; you have permission (from the Torah) to let your children perform mitzvot on your behalf.

In a d’var Torah just a few months ago, we looked at these commands to honor and revere our parents in the context of imperfect relationships. At that time, I spoke about building and donating in parents’ names, living the lessons they taught us, and supporting them, all while setting boundaries to protect ourselves. Please know that regardless of the quality of a relationship with parents, we have endless ways to revere, to honor, and to acknowledge them. Today, we’ve brainstormed ideas of how to honor our parents. Perhaps some of these ideas might ring true for your parents, as well. Perhaps some of our ideas ring true as hints to pass on to your children. Ultimately, as Proverbs instructs, The more we listen, the more we can be attuned to our best methods of honoring our parents and their lives.

Now that we’ve begun to discuss how to honor our parents, tomorrow, we’ll dive into what makes such respect of parents an act of holiness towards God. Shabbat Shalom.