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Posts Tagged ‘honoring our parents’

This week’s Torah portion contains a segment held in holiness not only in Judaism, but by Christianity – the first version of the 10 commandments.  In this parashah they are listed in Exodus 20.  A slightly different version is in Deuteronomy 5.  While both religions place high importance on the 10 commandments, the Jewish context and perspective is rather different.  Part of the difference is due to overall Jewish tradition.  Part is due to paying attention to the full Hebrew writing of each commandment.

In Jewish tradition, the 10 commandments, while significant, are just an introduction to the Torah’s 613 commandments. One can also argue that the Holiness Code in Leviticus chapter 19 is actually more significant than the 10 commandments. A combination of the wording of even similar commandments in Leviticus 19 as well as the presence of the most famous phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself,” makes a good argument that the Holiness Code is more instrumental than the 10 commandments.  Yet, it is the 10 commandments that are more universally influential.  They are often not only on display in synagogues, but also in numerous non-Jewish places, and in Christian dominated institutions as well.

That common use, by both Christians and Jews, is why we should look at the correct reading of commandments in their Hebrew origin in order to understand them correctly.  One common commandment that is misunderstood is the third commandment “You shall not take the name of God in vain; for God will not hold him guiltless who takes God’s name in vain.”  Some translations are worded, “You shall not swear…”  Numerous people take that to mean you cannot do cursing, especially using God’s name.  However, the overall Torah context indicates a different meaning – you cannot take an oath to something falsely using God’s name.  For example, if you swear by God’s name to tell the truth as a witness in a trial, you cannot lie.

The commandment I choose to discuss in more detail is the 5thcommandment, which serves as an interesting transition between those overseeing human relationship with God and those overseeing human to human relationships. That command states, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long on the land which the Eternal your God is giving you.”  Here is how the Christian Bible looks at the commandment through Paul’s statement in Ephesians 6:1 – 3:  “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’- which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”  There are two key differences between this perspective and the Jewish one.

It is Maimonides who provides a lot of insight into how Judaism looks at the fifth commandment.  Here is Maimonides definition of honoring parents from chapter VI of his Mishneh Torah:

“What Does honoring parents imply?  It means providing them with food and drink, clothing and covering, the expense to be borne by the father.  If the father is poor and the son is in a position to take care of his parents, he is compelled to do so.  He must support his parents in accordance with his means, conduct his father in and out, and perform for him such personal services as disciples perform for their teacher.”

The commandment of honoring parents is not about obeying them.  We do that as young children.  Upon reaching full adulthood, it is not about obeyance, but about making sure our aging parents are taken care with the same concerns they took care of us as little children.  A reality of life happens while aging.  We shift places in certain ways with our parents.  There is a plethora of possible changes in their lives, physically and mentally, that Maimonides teaches we should address on their behalf.  Further, we must have extreme patience with how our parents exist and act as their lives shift, especially if they shift in a negative direction.  Although Maimonides does put a limit on how much a father can demand, here is an example of the tolerance a parent’s child must have of them:

“To what lengths should the duty of honoring parents go?  Even were they to take a purse of his (the child’s), full of gold, and cast it in his presence into the sea, he must not shame them, manifest grief in their presence, or display any anger, but accept the divine decree without demur.”

To summarize what Maimonides is trying to teach, we must be sure our parents are taken care of properly if they are insecurely aging, but it must be by no more than what we can afford or are able to do.  Further, we can hire someone to take care of them if that works better, as opposed to giving up our life to do so.  However, the bottom line is to respect and honor them if they lose the ability to care for themselves, and do the best we can for them.

Now we must look at part two of the commandment, “that your days may be long on the land which the Eternal your God is giving you.”  Here is the true difference between Paul’s interpretation of the meaning in Ephesians and the actual context for Jewish history in the Torah. Paul interprets that as having a long life on earth.  He sees honoring the parents as following their dedication to God, which will result in admission to heaven upon death.  The context of Israelite history and Jewish tradition is very different.

The Hebrew clearly is referring to the Promised Land that the Israelites are heading to during their exodus. They will be deserving of having that land a long time if the elderly are properly and kindly managed.  This is a basic morality of Judaism.  We can easily apply this to all the elderly, not just our parents.  For example, Judaism suggests that our teachers are supposed to be considered as additional parents, as our learning is so important. There is no question Jewish morality requires us to care for our loved ones.  And love ones is not defined simply by biological family.

This is extremely relevant today, as we must make proper care of the elderly a serious priority in our society.  Further, we can conclude if our care for the elderly is insignificant, our society, our country, will not deserve a long existence.  The commandments in the Torah are often much deeper than we think.  If we are not willing to look at the full meaning, and then follow as best as we can, we are failing to build the world in the way we should.  In Judaism, building this world is far more our central purpose than finding a way to heaven.

 

 

 

 

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