Acharei Mot – Kedoshim תשפ
This week (if shul were open!), we would read a double portion, Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. The third verse in Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:3) tells us:
(ג) אִישׁ אִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו תִּירָאוּ וְאֶת שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ אֲנִי יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקֵיכֶם
3) Every man, your mother and father, shall you fear, and my Shabbats; shall you observe, I am Hashem your G-d.
This verse, is much less known than its famous cousin found in the Ten Commandments, כבד את אביך ואת אמך- “Honor your father and your mother.” This verse instructs us to fear our parents. How does one observe this commandment?
Quoting the Talmud, Rashi answers.
איזהו מורא? לא ישב במקומו ולא ידבר במקומו ולא יסתור את דבריו. ואיזהו כבוד? מאכיל ומשקה מלביש ומנעיל מכניס ומוציא
How does one exhibit fear? By not sitting in his parents’ seat, not interrupting them, and not contradicting what they say. How does one exhibit honor? By giving them to eat and drink, helping them dress and put on their shoes, and helping them come in and go out.
Another observation: this verse first cites the mother; yet in the verse in the Ten Commandments instructing us to honor our parents, the father is written first. Why the change?
אמו ואביו תיראו – כאן הקדים אם לאב לפי שגלוי לפניו שהבן ירא את אביו יותר מאמו ובכבוד הקדים אב לאם לפי שגלוי לפניו שהבן מכבד את אמו יותר מאביו מפני שמשדלתו בדברים
The Torah here cited the mother before the father because Hashem knows that a child fears his father more than his mother; and in the verse about honor, the Torah cited the father first because Hashem knows that a son respects his mother more than his father because his mother is more loving and persuasive.
By interchanging them, the Torah teaches us, that neither one takes precedence over the other, so they need to be treated equally in both fear and honor.
An obvious question hits you when you read the first verse: What is the connection between fearing one’s parents and keeping the Shabbat? Why insert these two seemingly unrelated concepts in the same verse?
The Talmud understands an important lesson from this. The verse is saying: “In spite of My commandment to fear your parents, you must still keep My Shabbat.” Hence, should your parent request you to violate the Shabbat, you must not listen – you must still keep the Shabbat. This rule applies to all of the Torah’s commandments. If a parent instructs a child not to keep any mitzvah, or to violate a prohibition, the child may not fulfill his parent’s directive; he must instead fulfill the wish of Hashem.
The verse’s final phrase provides the logic: “I am Hashem your G-d”. Both you and your parents are obligated to listen to Me. Their parental authority does override My commandment to you.
Imagine that you are taking a drive with your father. As you approach a stop sign, your father says to you, “You can go through the stop sign, no one is coming.” You listen to your father’s instructions, and, suddenly, flashing lights appear in your rear-view mirror. No cars were coming, but a police car was hidden behind some bushes at the stop sign. As the policeman approaches the car, you are unconcerned. Your excuse is ironclad.
The policeman says, “You just ran that stop sign.”
You answer, “I know officer, I was under a biblical obligation to do so!”
“Oh really?” says the officer, “How so?”
“My father told me to go through it. Have you heard of the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments? I was obligated to honor his request – the fifth commandment in the Bible!”
With that, the officer turns to your father in the seat next to you and asks, “Is that true?” Your father sheepishly says, “Yes it is, officer.”
Assuming the officer believes in the bible, will he let you off? What should he say to your father?
“When you come to a stop sign, you also have to stop. This is the government’s law that applies to every citizen, including you. By what authority did you tell your son to run the stop sign? It’s not your rule to break!”
In the same sense, Hashem gave the Torah’s laws to every Jew, and no one is authorized to instruct another Jew to break any them, not even your father – it’s simply not his law to break.
This raises a new question. Since the logic of this law is so clear, why did the Torah go to the trouble of teaching it to us by juxtaposing the fear of parents to the keeping of the Shabbat? The Torah never includes extra words. Because we would have figured this out by ourselves, like the police officer, why expend the words to write it explicitly?
Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the fact that the Torah equates parents’ honor with Hashem’s honor.
The first instance of this is in the Ten Commandments, which break down as follows:
- I am Hashem your G-d 6. Do not murder
- Do not have any other gods 7. Do not commit adultery
- Do not swear falsely 8. Do not steal
- Keep the Shabbat 9. Do not bear false testimony
- Honor your father and mother 10. Do not covet
A careful review of the two tablets reveals that the first tablet lists the commandments that apply between man and Hashem, and the second tablet lists the commandments that pertain to man’s relationship with his fellow man. A problem, however, appears to be with # 5, “Honor your father and mother.” Why is that commandment on the tablet with the commandments between man and Hashem? Are parents not human beings with whom we have a relationship? This teaches us that honoring parents is equal to honoring Hashem.
Two other places where a parent’s honor equates to Hashem’s are: (1) a person who curses his parent is guilty of the death penalty just as one who curses Hashem, and (2) a person who physically strikes his parent and merely creates a wound, receives the death penalty. Of course, one cannot strike Hashem, but if a person wounds any other person, he must only pay damages. The death penalty is ordinarily only for murder. We see that parents are in a different category altogether.
What is the significance of this idea? In what way are parents “equal” to Hashem?
Our Sages teach a very fundamental, yet profound, principle that is very counterintuitive. It comes from the Zohar, the foremost book of Jewish mysticism, and it goes like this.
זוהר חלק ב דף קסא/ב
קודשא בריך הוא אסתכל באורייתא וברא עלמא
The Holy One blessed be He, looked into the Torah, and created the world.
The Torah existed in Hashem’s mind – so-to-speak– before He created the universe. Of what was that Torah comprised? All the true and correct morals and values for mankind; matters that could be conceived of, only by Hashem. (Man is incapable of creating morals for himself.) When Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Sinai, He conveyed to them these essential truths in the form of the positive and negative mitzvot. This is the Torah’s essence and its purpose to man, comprising the divinely conceived morals and values of Hashem for man to learn and emulate through performing the mitzvot. The degree to which a man embodies the Torah’s morals and values is the degree to which he is aligned with Hashem and provides an accurate measure of his holiness.
For example, the Torah requires us to respect another’s property ownership, which is embodied in the commandment not to steal. But in order for man to actually achieve that attribute of respect, there must be:
- Items that can be stolen, and
- A legal system establishing ownership rules and how ownership is transferred from one person to another.
With this, upon exercising self-control and not taking something that doesn’t belong to him, a person acquires that quality of respect for another’s property.
When Hashem looked into His Torah, so to speak, and saw the commandment, “Do not steal,” He had to create a world with objects that could be stolen. Otherwise, this value would remain untaught, and man would lack the ability to practice respect of someone else’s property.
Applying this concept to parental respect it comes out like this. Since the Torah directs us to “Honor your father and your mother,” when Hashem created His world, He had to create a system where children come from parents. In other words, instead of “because we have parents, we need to honor them,” the Almighty’s system recognized that since there needs to be a concept of honor for parents, we need to have parents!
The concept of giving honor and respect to the ones who created you is a true Torah concept. It is proper and necessary to feel a deep debt of gratitude and a tremendous sense of awe and respect for the ones who have given you so much – life! This, moreover, is the entire basis for serving Hashem and keeping His mitzvot. He created us and gave us this life so that we can earn reward by serving Him. Being a servant of the amazing Creator of our universe is the greatest possible good that a person could hope to receive, for which he will be very well rewarded for his service in the world to come.
To help us acquire this value, Hashem created parents – mini creators – who, by having children, would teach them from when they were little, to show respect and awe for their creators, their parents. The home would be a stepping stone and a proving ground for inculcating into children the important value of feeling a deep debt of gratitude and a tremendous sense of awe and respect for the ones who gave them so much – life! The children will then apply to Hashem what they learned from their parents.
In this sense, parents are equated to Hashem because children must relate to their parents as their creators, just like their parents do to Hashem the ultimate Creator. This is why honoring one’s father and mother is on the rightside of the Ten Commandments, accompanying the commandments between man and Hashem, his Creator.
is the Talmud (Niddah 31a) reveals to us yet a deeper way in which parents are like Hashem:
תנו רבנן שלשה שותפין יש באדם הקדוש ברוך הוא ואביו ואמו אביו מזריע הלובן שממנו עצמות וגידים וצפרנים ומוח שבראשו ולובן שבעין אמו מזרעת אודם שממנו עור ובשר ושערות ושחור שבעין והקדוש ברוך הוא נותן בו רוח ונשמה וקלסתר פנים וראיית העין ושמיעת האוזן ודבור פה והלוך רגלים ובינה והשכל וכיון שהגיע זמנו להפטר מן העולם הקדוש ברוך הוא נוטל חלקו וחלק אביו ואמו מניח לפניהם
The Rabbis taught, There are three partners in every person. Hashem, his father, and his mother. The father and mother contribute the child’s physical components, and Hashem provides the soul. When it comes time for a person to leave the world, Hashem takes back His portion, and leaves the parents with their part of the partnership.
At first blush, this teaching seems to be metaphoric, but the commentary Sefas Emes (Parashat Noach 1884) explains that it is not.
Our Sages teach us that Hashem created man to bestow love and kindness upon him. What is the greatest good that Hashem could possibly bestow upon a person? Since Hashem is the quintessence of all goodness, the greatest possible good that Hashem could possibly grant a person is a relationship with Hashem Himself, the ultimate goodness. This purely spiritual relationship will be realized only in the world to come, where a person’s soul is in its pure spiritual state. The intensity of the pleasure that the soul will experience from this relationship with Hashem is beyond description. Though we have a spiritual relationship with Hashem in this world as well, our soul being housed in a physical body is unable to experience the full benefit of its relationship with Hashem. In the world to come, however, we will experience the spiritual relationship with Hashem, commensurate with the amount of spirituality that we created within ourselves during our lifetime.
How does one create that relationship with Hashem in this world? Through learning the Torah and performing Hashem’s mitzvot. These are spiritual power pills that inject spirituality into a person. With the soul housed in a physical body, there is always a challenge to doing Hashem’s will. Our physical component always seeks the easy way out, desiring only what is sweet and pleasurable this moment. Just to perform a “simple” mitzvah requires us to overcome that innate tendency and exert the effort to do Hashem’s commandment. Hashem rewards the effort by infusing us with a dose of spirituality from the mitzvah performed. And that reward is commensurate to the amount of effort exerted.
Hashem wants to bestow His goodness upon as many people as possible. To this end, the Torah’s first commandment is, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Hashem has a repository of souls waiting to be doled out, but He must have a receptacle, a human body, before a soul can enter this world. This is where Hashem, so to speak, really needs us, for otherwise, no children, no new souls enter the world. With Hashem’s help, we provide Hashem with a child into which He can place a soul. But, because Hashem cannot do it without us, parents are really full-fledged partners with Hashem in their children.
Parents can be considered equal to Hashem in yet another way. Just as Hashem has created this world and everything in it solely to bestow His goodness upon others, so, too, when parents bring children into the world with the singular goal of giving them the opportunity through their lives to earn sublime reward in the world to come, they are mirroring Hashem. This is why He created us, and this is why we create children.
This is also why Jewish education is so primary in a Jewish home. It offers the instruction that provides the child with the necessary tools to acquire his place in the world to come. He needs to learn how to learn Torah so he can fulfill the mitzvah of learning Torah. He needs to know how to pray and perform all the mitzvot so that when he becomes an adult, he will know how to use them to create his unique relationship with Hashem.
This is why the honor and fear of parents is so crucial in a Jewish family. It creates the proper framework for the relationship between parents and their children. And because the parental role is to impart to their children the tools they will need for life, an awe and respect for them and what they are doing must be infused into their children.
Sometimes, unfortunately, parents themselves don’t appreciate the magnitude of their responsibility to their creations. They think that their children are here to serve them instead of them being here to serve their children. They become personally upset when their children don’t follow their instructions. Yet, when a parent understands that his child must respect him for his child’s sake, not for the parent’s personal honor, he would not become upset. Rather, he would say, “The Torah requires that you show respect to your parent and you are not following the Torah’s instructions! It’s your problem, not mine.” When a child sees that his parents are in it only for him, to see that he learns the skills needed for life, he won’t resent them. On the contrary, he will have only the utmost respect for them, and thank them his entire life for having prepared him for life so well.
Seeing how much the Torah emphasizes honoring and fearing one’s parents, one might think that perhaps listening to a parent’s instruction, even when it is against the Torah, may be an exception.
The flaw in this rationale is that, ultimately, the goal behind the entire system is to learn how to listen to our Great Father in heaven; His request must remain primary. By teaching our children that we must all listen to our Father in heaven no matter who is asking you to violate it, provides the strongest lesson of all.
This is the meaning of “I am Hashem” at the end of the verse. Hashem is saying that even though I have instructed you to give so much honor to your parents, I am still Hashem, the ultimate Father, and, therefore, My honor comes first.