Honoring Parents – Honoring Hashem

The Torah equates honoring one’s parents with honoring Hashem. The parallel is not merely hyperbole, but actually expresses itself across Halacha. Rabbi Aryeh Citron explains.

By Rabbi Aryeh Citron

The Torah portion of Yitro tells the story of the giving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments, the fifth of which is the Mitzvah to honor one’s parents, as the Torah says (Exodus 20:12), “Honor your father and your mother in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the L-rd, your G-d, is giving you.”

The Torah equates honoring one’s parents with honoring G-d (Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabbah 27:1), as it says (Malachi 1:6),  “‘A son should honor his father, and a slave his master. Now if I am a father, where is the honor due Me? And if I am a master, where is the reverence due Me?’ said the L-rd of Hosts…”

Rabbi Eliezer Papo, famed author of the Peleh Yoetz, draws many parallels between the laws of honoring one’s parents (see Kiddushin 30b and on, and Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 240) and the laws of honoring G-d (Sefer Ya’alzu Chassidim, pages 398 – 404). 

Here are excerpts from those parallels:

  • One must take great care concerning his father and mother’s honor and fear (Y.D. 240:1).”

One should certainly take great care in honoring and fearing G-d.

  • What is considered honor? He gives his parent food and drink, and dresses him (Kiddushin 31b).” 

So, too, the Jewish people must give “food and drink” to G-d by offering sacrifices and libations to G-d (see Sefer Chareidim 66:36). Nowadays one can offer “libations” to G-d by providing for the needs of Torah scholars (see Yoma 71a). 

The Tikunei Zohar (Tikun 21 pg. 55a) says that we provide “delicacies” to G-d by fulfilling the positive mitzvot and must make sure not to “feed” Him “bitter food” by transgressing the negative commandments. 

In addition we “clothe G-d” (i.e., bring Him honor) by singing His praises and praying to him (Zohar, quoted in Sefer Chareidim ibid).

  • The Talmud says (Kiddushin 31a) that it is essential to serve one’s parents in a cheerful and pleasant manner. One who serves them with a sour face deserves a punishment rather than a reward. 

So, too, one should serve G-d with more enthusiasm and joy than he experiences when involved in earthly pursuits and pleasures, as the verse says (Deut. 28:47), “Because you did not serve the L-rd, your G-d, with happiness and with gladness of heart when you had an abundance of everything.” According to the Arizal (see Tanya chapter 26), this verse means that one’s happiness and joy when serving G-d should be greater than all the joy one has in worldly matters. 

  • The Talmud says (ibid) that one can earn a portion in the World to Come by having his father grind a hand mill. This is true in a case where one does so in order to save his father from an even more menial job. 

So, too, can one earn a portion in the World to Come (in certain rare cases) by sinning — if the sin is done for G-d’s sake — in order to prevent a greater sin (see Nazir 23b). 

An example of this was Aharon HaKohen who made a golden calf in order to prevent the Jewish people from killing a Kohen and Prophet (i.e., himself). As a reward for this, he was chosen by G-d along with his descendants to atone for the Jewish people by serving as Kohanim in the Mishkan and Beit HaMikdash (Vayikra Rabbah 10:3). Similarly, the Talmud says (Eiruvin 32b), “It is preferable for a Torah scholar that he commit a minor transgression in order to prevent an unlearned person from committing a major transgression.” [This is a complex matter. One should discuss any such issues with a halachic expert before proceeding.]

  • A son must take off from work to tend to his parents’ needs as long as he has enough funds to feed himself for that day (Yoreh De’ah 240:5). 

In the same way, one must take time off from work to pray with a minyan three times a day and have fixed times for Torah study every morning and evening.

  • If one needs a certain matter taken care of and he knows that if he mentions his father while asking for assistance it will be beneficial, he should mention his father as it will increase the honor of his father. This is true even if he would be assisted without mentioning his father’s name (Yoreh De’ah 240:5). 

So, too, when we pray to G-d for assistance, we should ask that He assist us for His own sake rather than because we deserve it. This is how Moshe Rabeinu behaved when he beseeched that G-d grant him a “gift” (to enter the Holy land) although he deserved to be answered on his own merit (see Midrash Tanchuma on Deut. 3:23). This is one of G-d’s traits — that he is charitable even to those who are not in need.

Similarly, we should not pray for our personal needs because this will make our lives easier. Rather we should ask that G-d fulfill our needs so that we can serve Him in the best possible way. Even if one prays for a reward in the Next World, he should do so for G-d’s sake by saying, “G-d, I know You desire to do kindness to Your creatures. Please fulfill Your desire to be kind by blessing me with Eternal life.”

  • One must stand up in order to honor one’s parents when they walk into the room (Yoreh De’ah 240:5). So, too, there are certain mitzvot we must perform while standing in order to honor G-d. 

Specifically, we stand for the following mitzvot:

  • The Amidah
  • Certain Kadeishim
  • When reciting Psalm 29 in the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers. According to the Arizal, one should then remain standing until after Barchu. It is noteworthy that the Lubavitcher Rebbe would stand for these prayers.
  • When saying Hashem Melech before Baruch She’amar (in Nusach Sefard and Arizal) and for Baruch She’amar
  • Hallel
  • Counting of the Omer
  • Donning Tzitzit
  • Blowing of the Shofar
  • While putting on Tefillin, including wrapping the strap around the middle finger. (Sefardim stand only when donning the head tefillin while Ashkenazim also stand for the arm Tefillin.)
  • While removing the Tefillin
  • When sanctifying the new moon which is like greeting the Shechina (Divine Presence)
  • When saying Viduy (confessionary prayers)
  • When getting an Aliyah (i.e., being called up to the Torah). It is best not to lean on the Bimah (lectern) at that time.
  • While the ark is opened and the Sefer Torah is being brought out or returned.
  • In addition, one should follow the custom and stand during any prayer for which it is customary to stand.
  • The Shulchan Aruch says (O.C. 472:5) says that on the night of Pesach, a son may recline in his father’s presence. From this, we can infer that if not for the mitzvah of reclining at the Seder, it is inappropriate for a child to recline in his parent’s presence. Similarly, when reciting blessings, one should sit in a state of awe (at least) as one would when conversing with a human king. Certainly one should not say blessings or the Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals) while slouched or lying down. Nor may one make any motion or gesture at such times just as one would not do when talking to a human king.
  • The Shulchan Aruch writes (Y.D. 240:8) To what extent should one honor one’s parents? Even if they take his bag of gold coins and throw it into the sea in front of him, he (the child) should not get angry at them or chide them. (Although the parent was not allowed to behave in this manner.) Rather he should accept the decree of G-d (that he must honor his parents nevertheless) and be silent.

In the same way, if G-d brings suffering upon a person, he should not speak angrily to G-d. Rather he should accept G-d’s will with joy and believe that, in a way that only G-d understands, it is for a greater good. The only reason he should be upset is because G-d Himself is not happy when He brings suffering to His children. As such, one should pray to be freed from suffering so that G-d should not suffer.

May we merit to honor the Almighty G-d as well as our parents!

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