obligations to our parents

One of the hardest mitzvahs to keep is honoring your parents – that’s what I’ve heard and that’s what I’ve seen. This mitzvah is of such enormous value that it made it to the 10 commandments, in fact appearing at #5. Yet, most people would find this commandment very difficult to implement in practice.

I’ve heard many mp3s about why that is. One reason may be because our parents have given us so incredibly much that we feel very indebted to them (consciously or subconsciously), to a degree where it’s hard to give back – it’s hard because we can never truly re-pay them. I heard a really interesting halacha or parable (not sure which one?) – apparently, if a child comes to a parent in the middle of the night with a gun ready to shoot, the parent is allowed to shoot in self-defence. On the other hand, if a parent comes with a gun to the child’s head then the child is not allowed to shoot in self-defence. Why? Possibly because at basic core instincts, a parent would not really kill their own child but a child would harm their parent. The principle is: a parent always gives more to a child than a child does to a parent. I’m not sure where this parable is from but it’s really stuck in my mind. It seems like a wild concept considering how many news stories there are of parents committing murder-suicides. But the reality is these cases are few and far between.

Our parents have given us something greater than anything we could ever repay them with – life. This thing without which we would not be writing or reading this. This thing without which we’d be unable to experience all the wonders and sorrows of this world. It’s a magical, spiritual, wonderous gift and we could never do enough to repay them, no matter how hard we try. Whether you’ve got the best parents in the world or someone gave you up through adoption or divorce, you owe the world to them. What a heavy and difficult task this can be. Somehow the enormity of the task makes me think of Hashem and the enormity of eternity. Hashem is eternal and our relationship to Him is like a parent. In the siddur it is often written “our Father in Heaven”. Like our parents, we can never repay Hashem for His wisdom in everything that is around us, in His immaculate plan for us and for the world, and how intricately it all comes together. In this mitzvah to our parents, we are able to build the 3 relationships that exist: us with others, us with Hashem, and us with ourselves. We too grow from the challenge of giving back to our parents, despite knowing full well that this can never be achieved 100%. What an amazingly difficult and rewarding mitzvah this is. May everyone find ease and satisfaction from living out this mitzvah.

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