Yisro – The Glue of Society: Honoring Parents

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One of the mitzvos enumerated in the Ten Commandments, listed in this week’s Torah portion of Yisro is honoring one’s parents. The Torah states, “Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that Hashem, your G-D, is giving you” (Shemos 20:12).
The Ralbag learns two lessons from this mitzva. The first lesson is that one should respect his or her parents, as it says, “Honor your father and your mother.” The lesson in this mitzva has to do with one’s character development; we are supposed to honor our parents because of the incredible assistance they have given us in our lives, and the fact that they guided us towards perfection when we accept mussar, practical lessons, from them.

The second lesson also has to do with character development, and it is to inform us that when there is a loss in the order of the communal household, there will then also be a loss in communal society. It will bring the destruction of society against the better nature of its citizens. For this reason, the Torah says that if people put effort into this matter, of fixing the home, that will lead to long days on the land that Hashem bequeaths to us. This follows, that if the communal home is not fixed in this manner, then there won’t be long days on the land, against the better interest set up by the citizens of the country. About this the prophet said to the Jews, “Father and mother are held light in you;” (Yechezkel 22:7) to teach them that they were deserving of the enemy coming and exiling them from the land. (Click Here for Hebrew text.)
We have seen the debacle of Socialism and the failed original methodology of the Kibbutz movement, involving trying to make everyone equal. They would separate the children from parents at a very early age in order that children would live alone amongst each other, separate from their parents, as equals, being raised and taken care of by the kibbutz. In order that everyone would have an equal share in everything.

Philosophies like those have destroyed societies and are even an integral part of the breakdown of society even today. But why is this so? Aren’t they doing it for the betterment of the world, for equality? What is wrong with that?
Let us say even if there was Jewish life that strictly kept the Torah, respected the Rabbis and elders, but did not show proper respect, or any respect to their parents; what would be wrong with that? They would still be observing the Torah and receiving guidance from Rabbis, teachers, and mentors whom they respect. What’s the big deal if they would not respect their parents?

However, it would seem that not properly respecting parents was a cause for the exile by the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. It must be that if one doesn’t show proper respect and gratitude towards the people who brought you into the world, having the most intimate and personal impact on your life, the ones that raised you, cared, nurtured and guided you into who you are today, then it will have a ripple effect across the entire society, and a breakdown of society will occur.

Even going against the system Hashem has put into place, of parents raising their children and children reciprocating by honoring their parents, if that system isn’t in place and different systems are developed for the “betterment” of society and the world, in the end they will fail. Because Hashem in His ultimate knowledge and foresight understands that everything starts in the home and if it does not start from there, from those who brought you into this world, then there will be a lack of respect, honor and gratitude for anyone, which will create chaos throughout society.

Vayigash – Trying Harder

In this week’s Torah portion of Vayigash, Yosef ensured that his father and family were safely brought down to Egypt in order to take proper care of them. Thus making certain the next step in the destiny of the Jewish people, promised to Avraham, would be fulfilled.

Yet, the medrish, Pirkei diRebbe Eliezer (perek 39) relates, “Rebbe Yishmael says, ten times did the sons of Yaakov say to Yosef ‘Our father, your servant,’ and Yosef heard these words and was quiet, and being quiet is like acquiescing, therefore his life was shortened by ten years.” The Bayis Hagadol explains that because the reward for honoring one’s parents is long life, therefore, G-D forbid, the punishment for disrespect is a shortened life. The medrish continues, “Yosef heard that his father came to the border of Egypt, and he took all the people with him to greet his father. A whole nation usually comes out to greet the king, but the king does not go out to greet any person, but you learn from here that one’s father is like a king.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
If one analyzes what happened here, it is quite mystifying why Yosef was punished by having ten years subtracted from his life, he should have lived to 120 and instead he lived to 110  even if at first glance it seems to be measure for measure. First off, the Bayis Hagadol points out that only five times does it mention in the Torah that Yosef’s brothers said to Yosef, ‘Our father, your servant,’  once at the end of parshas Miketz (43:28), and four times in the beginning of parshas Vayigash (44: 24, 27, 30, & 31), but because there was an interpreter between them who repeated what they said to Yosef it was considered ten times. So really, he heard his brothers call their father ‘your master’ five times but it was just quoted over again to Yosef because he had to pretend he did not understand what they were saying so that they wouldn’t figure out who he was. Yosef was not ready to reveal himself to his brothers and he wanted to make sure to reveal himself at the proper time so that all his plans would work out smoothly, to be able to properly take care of his father and show him the respect that he was due. So Yosef had to stay silent even though it looked like he was agreeing that his father was his servant, which looked like a sign of disrespect, but no one knew who he was and he was in fact being quiet out of respect for his father since this was all part of the plan to safely reacquaint himself with his father and resettle him in Egypt. Furthermore, he really only heard his brothers talk that way five times and the interpreter, Yosef’s son, who was only acting, was really just a puppet; so what did Yosef do wrong and why was he so severely punished for disrespecting his father? He didn’t actively do anything and his intent, on the contrary, was to prepare for showing tremendous respect to his father which in fact Rebbe Yishmael goes on to show that he did beginning with when Yaakov first came to Egypt. Yosef, the leader of the country, came to greet him, forgoing his position and treating Yaakov like a king because he was his father. Then he sustained and took care of his father and family for the rest of his life; what greater respect is there? So what did Yosef do to deserve a punishment of  his life cut short by ten years?

We must say that Yosef’s intent was to show respect for his father, and in fact he did actively show tremendous respect for his father, and he was concerned about the status and welfare of his father the entire time, and at the time of listening to his brothers and the interpreter his motives were also respect for his father.  However, his lack of action and silence in the face of such a comment as ‘Our father, your servant,’ although he was not ready to reveal himself to his brother, was taken “in the eyes” of Hashem as a disrespect to his father because it must be if he would have really been vigilant at honoring his father he would have found a way to not allow them to talk in such a manner. He could have changed the subject or walked out, as he did when he felt he had to cry a couple of times in last week’s Torah portion, or some other way, whatever way would work. Since he didn’t take that initiative, even  though his disrespect was as passive as it was, on his level, according to what was expected of a Yosef Hatzadik, it was a lack of honor to his father deserving of punishment measure for measure.

We learn from here how careful we must be to measure our actions and even inactions, for even if we might seem to mean well, we still might not be living up to our fullest potential and what is expected of us.

Torah Riddles Test #87

1.      Question: Why does the Shaagos Aryeh hold that saying Shema in the morning and night are two separate mitzvos but honoring your father and mother is one mitzvah but two parts to it?


A. The Maharatz Chiyos (Sanhedrin 56b) proves that honoring your parents is one mitzvah with two parts because there are only Ten Commandments not 11.

B. What is “michayev,” meaning what creates the obligation of each mitzvah?      

A1. By honoring one’s parents the obligation is because you are their child so the source of obligation is that you by yourself have to honor your mother and father. This is why it is one mitzvah with two parts to it. But what obligates one to say Shema is the time of day and night so it is two separate mitzvos.

Positive Mitzvos 10-11

Positive mitzvah #10 כבד את אביך ואת אמיך One also transgresses the positive mitzvah of honoring their parents if they speak or accept lashon hara about them whether in there face or behind there back. This extra mitzvah also applies to an older brother, stepmother and stepfather who you have a mitzvah to treat with extra respect beard on the extra word ואת in that verse.

Positive Mitzvah #11: את ד’ אלוקיך תירא One of the six constant mitzvos is to fear Hashem. This means that we must constantly have in mind that we can’t get around Hashem’s radar. Hashem is always watching us and will punish us for bad deeds based on the severity of our actions. Many times when speaking lashon hara it leads to other sins because when we speak loshon Hara we let down our fear guard and that drives us to do one sin after another until we put up the fear gaurd again.