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Honoring Parents

Honoring Parents

Kibud Av – How to Really Respect One's Parents

Published on Tuesday July 28th, 2020

Honoring one's parents is one of Torah's most challenging commandments. Does it mean we need to obey by the book?  What happens if we fundamentally disagree with our parents?

Social trends lead us to think that our parents are indebted to us. As part of their debt, they should be responsible to provide for all our needs, such as food, shelter and clothing. In addition, it goes without saying that they should finance our education and foot the bill for our wedding costs.  After all, we didn’t ask to be born, did we?

Our parents don’t owe us anything. They gave us life.

We ought to be grateful to them just for the gift of being alive.

Our gratitude need not be necessarily expressed materially or financially. The Gemara teaches that even if we were to present them with a kingly banquet, we wouldn’t have necessarily fulfilled the Mitzvah of respecting our parents. Sometimes, a hearty soup, served with kindness and attention can be considered as a praiseworthy Mitzvah.

In this regard, our approach is critical. There is no point in lavishing our parents with material gifts in a patronizing way, while failing to appreciate the numerous ways they have benefited us.

Limitless Gratitude

And what about our parents' mistakes? What should we do if our parents are overbearing and negative? Are we still obliged to show them gratitude?

Imagine that on your 20th birthday, your parents surprise with a new car! You run out to look at the car and suddenly stop in your tracks. The car has no wheels! You get angry and make a nasty face. What's the point of having a car if it has no wheels?

How can you react more positively?

One thing you can do is decide to get a job and earn enough money to buy wheels!

We tend to blame our parents arbitrarily. In fact, we behave like the recipient of a new car, minus the wheels. Have our parents made mistakes in raising us? Yes, of course! Everyone makes mistakes.

The challenge is to take whatever our parents have bestowed upon us, for better or worse, and make the best of it, using our own aptitudes and strengths.

Their mistakes do not cancel our obligation to respect them. Let's not forget:they gave us life!

Even if we disagree with them, we must still be careful not to correct, contradict or embarrass them. Speaking to them harshly is very offensive. If they say something wrong, we must avoid bringing it to their attention. So instead of saying: "Dad, you are wrong," we should say: "Dad, it seems to me ...". Approaching our parents considerately and with the right intentions, makes a significant difference.

A larger than life Mitzvah

When we observe the Mitzvah of respecting our parents, we access a dimension of significant importance. In showing gratitude to our parents, we learn how to show gratitude to Hashem.

Moshe Rabbeinu received the ten commandments at Mount Sinai. The latter were engraved on two tables. The five commandments related to the relationship between man and his Creator (such as the prohibition against idolatry), are written on the right. The left table contains five additional commandments, regarding the relationship between man and his fellow man (such as the prohibition to commit murder). However, the commandment to honor one's parents is written on the right side, within the category of the Mitzvot between man and God.

There is a close connection between parent-child relationships and man-Creator relationships. When a child is born, his parents undergo a life-changing human transformation. They learn to bestow unconditional and selfless kindness to their innocent newborn. Parents also learn how to be merciful and forgive their children even when they make "unforgivable" mistakes; because parents cherish their offspring more than anything else in the world.

Likewise, the Almighty gives us unceasingly and unconditionally. Every blooming flower, every drop of water and dew, every breath we take, is a gift from Him. He also forgives us, despite our occasional regrettable mistakes. His love is so much greater and all-encompassing than our parents' love for us! And it even surpasses our love for our children many times over. Whatever love and kindness we receive from our parents and merit to pass on to our children is like a drop in the ocean, compared to Hashem's love for us.

Teach Children Respect

It is therefore critical to teach our children how to properly respect us, for their own sake.  Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible for them to develop a close relationship with their Creator; and this fundamental relationship with Hashem will influence their lives forever.

The Rambam teaches that the Mitzvah of honoring one's parents applies even after their passing. It is manifested in our prayers, thoughts and Torah study on their behalf.

This Mitzvah critically influences our lives and we must aspire to accomplish it to the best of our abilities because its merit in the future world is unfathomable.

Competition: who honors his/her parents the most!

The following criteria are taken from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin's book.

Here are five points, describing the basics of honoring one's parents. If we keep them in mind, we can continuously improve our relationship with our parents.

1. Think of your parents as very honorable people. (even if they are not.)

2. Speak to your parents gently and pleasantly. The Gemara (Baba Metsia 58b) teaches that verbal aggression is far more hurtful than financial harm. That is, speaking to our parents with chutzpah is far more serious than taking advantage of them monetarily.

3. Respect your parents by always calling them "Mom" or "Dad". It is improper to call them by their first name. It is a major breach of trust to disturb their sleep or occupy their seat at the dinner table or at the synagogue.

4. Serve them food and drink with a smile. Rise to welcome them when they knock on your door and escort them to the door before they leave.

5. You do not have to respect your parents if their behavior is demeaning. It is inappropriate for parents to behave cruelly towards their children or to make them suffer unnecessarily.

You are not bound by the obligation to respect your parents if their behavior is belittling.

Parents should avoid putting too much pressure on their children, or demand exaggerated respect. This is true for all types of pressure, including psychological abuse, which unfortunately occurs frequently.

To achieve a healthy relationship between parents and children, parents must try to understand, respect and show patience towards their children. Every child needs to feel loved and accepted the way he/she is.

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