June 12, 2024
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Appreciating Our Fathers on Father’s Day

We are about to observe the secular holiday of Father’s Day. To some it is only a Hallmark card tradition. To others it is a chance to pause and appreciate all that our fathers have done for us.

The verse tells us that “a son honors his father…” (Malachi 1:6). The Ten Commandments compels us to “Honor your father and your mother” (Shemot 20:12). The Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) elaborates, comparing the honor and respect that one gives to Hashem with the honor and respect we owe our parents. In fact, R’ Eliezer tells us that if both a father and a mother make a request at the same time, the child should honor the father’s request first since both he and his mother are obligated to honor the father.

How does one go about this? Honoring one’s parents is described by Rashi as feeding them, dressing them and assisting them with walking. Reverence is described by the Rambam as not usurping our parents’ place, not interrupting them and not contradicting them in an abrupt or disrespectful manner.

Honoring one’s parents when one is age six and they are in their 20s is no big deal. They are healthy and strong. The greater challenge is to honor and revere them at age 60 when they are in their 80s and are starting to show signs of infirmity. That may be why the Torah offers a special reward of long life, an incentive that is rare in the Torah.

Fathers stand as role models for their children. Their function in the family is very important. R’ Yaakov Kaminetsky observed that until the time of Yehoshua ben Gamla, a kohen gadol in the Second Temple era, there was no system of public Torah education established in Israel. Many of the common people were not formally educated. However, the parents were successful in conveying the traditions and values of the Torah to their children, acting as role models.

When the Mishna was redacted by R’ Yehuda Hanasi, a special tractate called “Pirkei Avot,” the Ethics of our Fathers, was included. Aside from the various strict laws that were described in other tractates, it was felt that the wisdom and positive character traits that were promulgated by the Sages, who were compared to our spiritual fathers, needed to be codified.

The Talmud wanted to exemplify how far honoring one’s father should go. They related the story of Dama ben Netinah. The sages, at the time, wanted to buy special jewels for the “ephod,” the ceremonial garment worn by the kohen gadol. Dama happened to have the finest such jewels in the country. Dama stood to make a profit of 600,000 coins. However, the key to the jewelry safe was lying under his father’s pillow and his father was asleep at the time. Dama refused to disturb his father’s sleep and lost the sale.

The next year, Dama was blessed with an unusual reward for having shown this level of respect to his father. A “parah adumah,” a one-of-a-kind red heifer, was born to his herd. This red heifer had the power to ritually cleanse people who were spiritually impure. It only appeared once in a generation, if ever. When the sages of Israel came to buy this red heifer from Dama he said to them, “I know that even if I asked for all of the money in the world for this cow you would pay me. All I ask of you, though, is the money I lost because of the honor I accorded to my father.”

Let us take the time to reflect upon the respect and honor we owe to our fathers. Let us not wait until their yahrzeits to show our appreciation. May we all find the inner strength to always honor and revere our fathers during the easy times, the hard times and, for some, posthumously. May we merit to live long, healthy and meaningful lives as a result.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is vice president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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