The Phenomenon of Parents

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Parshas Kedoshim commences (Lev. 19:3) with the command of fearing parents. Rashi comments that the mother is placed first in this command, as our tendency is to show greater fear for a father. And in the command to honor parents (Exod. 20:12) the father precedes the mother as our tendency is to show greater honor for a mother as she placates a child with words. What’s Rashi’s message, that we need to “balance” our fear and honor of parents to ensure they both receive equal doses? And why is this necessary? If God created us where we naturally treat parents differently, that is God’s design of a human. That should not require a correction. 

Secondly, it is known that the 10 Commandments are divided into two tablets: one tablet of the first five commands addresses laws between man and God. The second tablet is between man and his fellow. Is it not out of place that the law of honoring parents is on the first tablet which is between man and God?

Third, as God created Adam and Eve from the “dust of the ground,” what demanded a change that all future people must go through an embryonic process, birth, infancy and maturation, thereby demanding the phenomenon of parents? God could “just as easily” create all humans as He created Adam and Eve. 

Why is cursing parents so severe that the punishment is death (Lev. 20:9), and why does this verse follow prohibitions of idolatry?

What is derived from Koheles Rabba 5:10 that states that three parties are involved in the creation of man: God, a father and a mother?

And finally, a few Torah verses catches our eye: 

Now Adoniyah son of Haggith went about boasting, “I will be king!” He provided himself with chariots and horses, and an escort of fifty outrunners. His father [King David] had never scolded him: “Why did you do that?” He was was also exceedingly handsome and the one born after Absalom (I Kings 1:5,6).

There is a relationship made between Adoniyah’s rebellion to take the throne, and King David’s rearing of him, explaining the juxtaposition of these two verses. He rebelled precisely because King David never disciplined him, and that was because of his handsome appearance. King David did not wish to place a frown one such a beautiful child. Lack of discipline creates an adult who has no fear of authority. We readily see an answer to our questions…

God could have sustained His method of creation for all humans to match that of Adam and Eve—“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the Earth” (Gen. 2:7)—instead of procreation. It is no more difficult for God to select either method of creating man. Reproduction through procreation was not any “easier” for God. 

Honoring parents is located on the first tablet addressing laws between man and God, because honoring parents targets honoring God. It is only through the training from youth to recognize the concept of an authority (parent), that a person ultimately can transposes that respect onto God. But as Adoniyah did not learn this lesson due to his father’s lack of discipline, he did not hesitate to attempt to take the throne. 

God’s design of the phenomenon of “parents” intends to offer man a means to arrive at honor and fear of God. One first respects parents as authority figures, as a model for later recognition of God. This explains the severe death penalty for cursing parents. For such a person—like the rebellious child—travels the path where it is difficult to arrive at honoring and fearing God. This also explains the juxtaposition of not cursing parents after idolatry, as rebelling against parents is akin to rebelling against God through idolatry.

How do we answer our opening question that a balance is sought for our fear and honor of our parents, that our natural dispositions (showing greater fear for a father and greater honor for a mother) should be neutralized and equalled? This balance which God desires teaches that our honor of and fear for our parents does not have those individuals as the goal. In other words, “Don't relate to them as a strict father and a gentle mother,” but as partners in our very creation orchestrated by God. They are models for God, to Whom we do not make a distinction in our honor and fear; we show God complete honor and complete fear. Thus, we must relate to our parents expressing the ultimate truth that we exist ultimately because of God. Our honor of both parents must be equalled as an expression that we are truly honoring God, towards Whom there is no distinction between our fear and honor.

One might ask why wildlife must also share this phenomenon of parents, as they possess no intellect with which to recognize God. The answer is because animals do not exist for themselves. Rashi on Pirkei Avos 2:8 States that God made a condition with Creation: “If Israel rejects the Torah, I will turn the universe back into chaos.” Earth is created for man alone. Animals exist to display God’s wisdom and to assist man in his needs. Not only do animals provide for our travel, farming, clothing, and diet, but there is much to learn from their behaviors:

Lazybones, go to the ant; study its ways and learn. Without leaders, officers, or rulers, it lays up its stores during the summer, gathers in its food at the harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8)

King Solomon teaches that a lazy person can learn much from the animal world. This lesson is but one of thousands, including lessons derived from the relationships between various animal parents and their offspring. 

In summary, we once again witness God’s brilliance, as numerous sources create one harmonious insightful lesson. Every new Torah idea we learn increases our awe/fear of God, Whom we honor with our praises. And it is not that God needs our honor or our fear, as He needs nothing. But like every other command, honoring and fearing God is for our own perfection, which ultimately is the perfection of our ideas.