Book of Exodus
February 17, 2017
“Honor your father and your mother. . .”
Of all the Aseret Ha’debrot (Ten Commandments or Statements), this one may be the most profound and complex. Why does the Torah use the word “honor” and not “love”?
The ancient rabbis made clear that nothing in the Torah is superfluous. Every word has a depth of meaning waiting to be discovered. Dennis Prager, a popular voice in contemporary Jewish life, writes, “Many parents seek to be loved, not honored, by their children. Yet, neither the Ten Commandments nor the Bible elsewhere commands us to love our parents. This is particularly striking given that the Bible commands us to love our neighbor, to love God and to love the stranger.” Prager further suggests that “honoring parents is how nearly all of us come to recognize that there is a moral authority above us to whom we are morally accountable. And without this, we cannot create or maintain a moral society.”
I tend to believe we all grew up in dysfunctional homes. I know I was not entirely satisfied with the level of parenting I experienced in my youth. Yet, no matter how poorly behaved I may have been, I always recognized and respected my mother’s position of authority. As years went by, I came to understand her role in my life was not to be a friend, but a parent; to teach me, through her actions, to respect, love others, and honor authority.
As a young chaplain in the U.S. Navy, I was taught the reason we salute a superior officer is to honor the rank he holds, not necessarily the person who holds it. The Torah requires children to honor their mothers and fathers not because they fulfill all their wishes but because they bear the rank and title of “mother” and “father”.
The foundation of a healthy society is built with parental nurturing. It is not the child’s obligation to love his/her parents, but the parent’s task to teach love and respect by example. The first moral lesson the Torah requires a child be taught is to honor authority, especially when that authority is worthy of honor. There is no more honorable authority than parenthood.
Rabbi Howard Siegel