Last week we discussed how honoring our parents helps inculcate the trait
of gratitude. One reason why we must honor our parents is because we
should feel immense gratitude at the numerous kind deeds that they have
done for us. And first and foremost, they gave us the greatest gift
possible - that of life itself.
This week, we hope to take this idea further; it is well-known that the
command to honor our parents is one of the Ten Commandments that were
given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. These commandments were
engraved onto two tablets of stone, five on each one. The Rabbis write
that there are two general categories within which all commandments
belong; ‘between man and G-d’ or ‘between man and his fellow’.
Those that are between man and G-d include commands such as eating kosher
food and keeping Shabbat. The purpose of such commands is to develop our
relationship with G-d by following these commands, they have little
obvious relevance to our relationships with other people1 .
In contrast, the commands that are between man and man are intended to
enable us to improve our relationships with those around us - obvious
examples are, ‘love thy neighbor’ and ‘do not steal’.
The Rabbis have a tradition that the first tablet was engraved with the
first five commandments which all fall into the ‘man and G-d’ grouping.
The difficulty with this understanding, is that the fifth commandment,
which is part of the ‘man and G-d’ section is ‘honor your parents’. It
would have seemed that this command is purely one that helps develop our
relationship with our fellow man and has little direct relevance to
improving our relationship with G-d. However, on deeper analysis it is
clear that keeping this command properly will greatly enhance our
relationship with G-d.
The Sefer HaChinuch who we quoted last week discussing the importance of
being grateful to our parents, continues to develop this theme. He
discusses how appreciating our should lead us to appreciating everything
Hashem has done for us. He writes:
“Once a person fixes this trait [of gratitude to our
parents] in his heart, he will come to a great feeling of gratitude
towards Hashem, who is the cause of his existence and that of all his
ancestors back to Adam HaRishon2 . [He
will thank Hashem for] bringing him into the world and for providing his
needs for his whole life… and gave him a knowing and thinking soul, for
without this soul he would be like a wild horse, and he should think how
important it is to be careful in serving Hashem correctly3 .”
By focusing on everything that our parents have done for us, we should
automatically come to a recognition that Hashem has done even more
kindness than them - for example, even after we leave our parent’s home
and have to fend for ourselves, we are still constantly being looked after
and guided by Hashem. Thus, in a similar way that our gratitude to our
parents should cause us to honor them, so too our gratitude towards Hashem
should make us do our utmost to follow His ways. Moreover, we should
realize that His unending kindness demonstrates his immense love for us
and that anything He tells us to do is ultimately for our own benefit.
1 It should be noted that even commands that are in the ‘man
and G-d’ category can nonetheless greatly enhance our relationships with
other people. Observing Shabbat, for example, offers an excellent (and
otherwise rare) opportunity for family members to spend quality time
together without being distracted by television, internet, or
telephones. 2 ‘Rishon’ means first. 3 Sefer HaChinuch Mitzva 33.