Thus far we have discussed the details of the command to honor our parents. The Torah also requires that we fear them: “A man must fear his mother and father, and observe my Shabboses, I am the Lord your G-d1 .” There are a number of aspects to this commandment but all of them are based on the concept that we should show deference to our parents as a sign of respect for whom they are and everything that they have done for us. They include:
1. A child is not supposed to sit in his parent’s place. For example, a parent often sits on a specific couch or has his place around the dining table. It is forbidden for a child to sit in this place without the express permission of his parent.
2. A child should stand up as soon as the parent first enters the house or room and when he leaves for the day. He need not stand up every single time that the parent enters or exits. If the parent feels uncomfortable about this practice then the child does not have to stand when his parent enters and leaves.
3. A child should not call his parents by their first name. It is a sign of lack of respect to speak to a parent in such a fashion. Even when the parent is not present, it is proper not to mention his parent’s name without giving him a title first. For example, one should try to refer to his father (whose name is John Smith) as Mr John Smith, or his mother, as Mrs Sarah Smith. Again, if the parent does not want the child to follow this practice then one is not obligated to do so. Nonetheless, it is advisable not to call one’s parents by their first name in order to maintain one’s own personal sense of respect for them. This law even applies after the parents are no longer alive.
4. A child is not allowed to contradict his parent. If a parent expresses an opinion then the child should not express his discontentment with it. However, if the child feels that the parent may make a wrong decision based on his opinions then it may be allowed for the child to respectfully offer his suggestion on the matter.
5. Furthermore, a child is not even allowed to confirm that his parent’s opinion is correct. For example, if the parent says that he thinks the stock market will go up, the child should not say, ‘dad, I think you’re right’. It is somewhat condescending for a child to assert that he confirms that his parent’s views are correct.
At first, these laws seem very difficult to observe partly because in the Western world many children look on their parents as their equals. The Torah teaches us that this is not the case – a child should hold his parents in awe and treat them with deference.
1 Vayikra, Parshas Kedoshim, 19:3.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen and Torah.org