"Respect your father and your mother..." (Shemos 20:12)
The Torah commands us to honor our father and mother, the two people who
were Hashem's partners in bringing us into the world. This mitzvah has
many practical aspects, including standing up for our parents, respecting
their wishes, and caring for their needs. In fact, the Chayei Adam
explains that there are three parts to this mitzvah: 1) to think highly of
our parents; 2) to speak highly of them; and 3) to act on their behalf, as
in caring for them (Chayei Adam 67:3)
Honoring them is considered Hashem's honor (Kiddushin 30b)
In the Ten Commandments, we are told "Honor your father and your mother,
so that your days will be extended..." (ibid.). This is explained in two
- By helping and honoring your parents, you enable them to live longer.
Thus, you gain that merit in return.
-By showing that you honor those who helped bring you to life, you deserve
The Talmud (Kiddushin 30a) instructs us to learn how to honor our parents
from a non-Jew, Dama ben Nesina, who gave up a potential profit of a huge
sum of money in order to avoid waking his father. For that, the Talmud
says, Hashem rewarded him with a red heifer, which he sold for exactly the
amount he lost in not waking his father. We can ask three questions:
-What was his logic in not waking his father? Why didn't he
rationalize, "The loss will be so great - I'll just wake my father this
-What would have happened if the key to the red heifer's corral had been
under his father's pillow. Would he have lost this deal, too?
-Why did Hashem reward him with a red heifer? Why not just give him a
treasure full of gold?
The answer is that Dama ben Nesina's logic was "My parents are the only
two people in the world who gave me life. Thus, the are irreplaceable.
The money I lose today, Hashem can send me tomorrow."
The red heifer was a unique entity, the only one of its kind in existence
at the time. (There have only been nine of them in all of history, and
the tenth will come in Mashiach's time [Rambam, Hilchos Para Adumah
3:4].). Thus, the Sages would have returned for it if the key was
unavailable. It was only the sale of gems which was forfeited because the
Sages found them somewhere else.
Hashem gave him a red cow, which was one of a kind, to reward him, measure
for measure, for treating his parents with unique honor. This teaches us
the great concept of treating our parents with proper respect, as they are
the only ones who have granted us life!