Parshas Acharei Mos - Kedoshim
Volume 4 Issue 31
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Respect of parents is a universal concept. It is as universal as the
concept of a day of rest. And this week in the portion of Kedoshim, both
concepts are taught to us in one single verse. "Every man: You shall revere
your mother and father and with reverence my Shabbos you shall observe, I
am Hashem, your G-d" (Leviticus 19:3). Two commandments, the Sabbath and
parental honor are placed together. They are not only juxtaposed for their
universality or importance; the Talmud derives an important halachic
ruling from the positioning. The Talmud explains that the honor of parents
goes up to a point. It may not override Torah observance. Thus, if a
parent commands a child to desecrate a Torah law, such as the observance of
Shabbos, in that instance the child is no longer commanded to heed them.
So the caveat of Shabbos is clearly understood in relationship to parental
The words that follow, however, seem superfluous. "I am Hashem." Why did
the Torah add that? Those words, "I am Hashem", are usually placed in
conjunction with commandments that deal with secret intentions. Cheating ,
lying, and falsifying weights and measures are prime examples. Those are
instances where the victim is fooled yet only Hashem knows the truth. It
is in Deuteronomy where the Torah admonishes us to keep proper weights and
measures and then adds, "I am Hashem." Dishonoring parents seems
different. The victims are well aware of the sin of dishonor. After all,
they are the clear recipients of the disrespect. Why then, must the Torah
add "I am Hashem" in relationship to parental honor? Perhaps the Torah
is giving us a new perspective in parental honor?
Recently, at a family simcha, Rabbi Moshe Chopp (not to be confused with
Rabbi Czopnik) told the following story (in the name of Rabbi Avi Fishoff).
An old Jew was sitting on a bench on a sweltering July day in Central Park.
when he noticed two workers getting off a truck parked on the great lawn.
Each had a shovel in hand, and a variety of gardening tools were strapped
to heavy leather belts that held up their thick, grass-stained, dungarees.
The workers surveyed the area. Then, as if on cue, one of them began to
dig furiously. He dug and dug while the other worker looked on, almost
indifferent. Finally, the digger lifted his sweaty head from the ground
and smiled. By his feet, a large hole was formed. Then the two workers
looked at each other, stood back, and waited. Nothing, however, was
happening. After about ten minutes the first fellow looked at his watch,
shrugged his shoulders, and nodded to the second man.
As if on cue, the second fellow began filling the hole with the earth that
was just removed. He patted the now-filled hole firmly and nodded to the
first fellow who nodded his approval. With smug smiles of great
accomplishment, they walked about 12 feet from their first location and
began the procedure again. While the filler-man watched, the first worker
dug a hole. Upon its completion, he stopped. Then both workers waited
exactly ten minutes. The nod came, and while the first fellow watched, the
second fellows repacked the hole until it was firm and neat.
After six repeats of the bizarre episode, the elderly man on the bench
could no longer contain himself. "What in the world are you guys doing?" he
exclaimed. "What have you accomplished? Are you digging or filling? What's
going on here?"
"Take it easy!" boomed the first worker. "We're planting trees here! I dig
the hole then the next guy puts the tree in and finally, him, over here,"
he said pointing to the second worker, "fills the hole and packs it real
neat. This way the tree has strong support."
Before the gentleman could open his mouth the second fellow chimed in.
"We're union workers and the guy who plants the trees didn't show up today!
But we are here doin' our jobs. 'Cause, Oh No! We ain't missin' a day's
pay 'cause he didn't show!"
The Torah tells us that there is more to honoring parents than a commitment
to only them. There is one partner who must always be taken into account.
"I am Hashem." Fear and respect of parents are an integral part of the
puzzle, but without affording the proper recognition to the Creator, it's
as if you are digging and filling without planting. The fact that mitzvos
supercede the laws of respect has an underlying meaning. It means that the
third partner holds the key to the first two. And without Hashem we can dig
and fill but, at the end of the day we will have nothing to show for all
Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky
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