The Ten Commandments are divided into two groups – the first five are commandments between Man and God, and the second five are commandments between Man and his fellow Man. The commandments between Man and his fellow Man are intuitive: do not murder, steal, be jealous, covet etc. These are the behaviours that prevent society from descending into anarchy, and remind us of our moral obligations to be respectful of another’s property, relationships and human life. The commandments between God and Man concern items like not worshipping idols or remembering the creation of world by observing the Shabbat day. But one commandment seems out of place among the first five: the commandment to honor parents. How does honoring parents count as a commandment between man and God?
The answer can be found in the Talmud, which says that whoever honors his parents is at the same time honoring God. But what does that mean?
I think that in many ways, the ability to honor parents is basic to the psychology of belief. In today’s world we have blurred the boundaries between adults and children. We encourage our children to be our “friends”, dress like us, talk like us, and behave like us. The old fashioned idea of “respecting your elders” doesn’t seem important, and actually it is youth culture that is celebrated, and even our grandparents are expected to be “cool”. The Torah is trying to tell us that respect for parents is critical for each new generation. When we begin to blur those boundaries, we are eroding the differences between children and parents, and actually rob our children of their opportunity to be children, and to be mentored by adults. By honoring one’s parents, each person is acknowledging that there are critical rules, regulations, and protocols that are essential to a healthy society, and fundamental to a religious way of thought.
When seen this way, we can see how respecting parents also leads to humility. Being humble is about putting others before ourselves, and humility is also a foundation of the relationship between man and God, and “walking in the ways of God”.
There is another benefit from this commandment. By honouring our parents we build a framework for family peace. When we bring peace into our homes, we endow these precious relationships with an element of the divine, and make our homes meaningful and holy.
Shabbat Shalom