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.