Have you ever met people and become curious who their parents are? Like, I wonder who their father and/or mother is!? I can imagine that amongst teachers, after being in the vicinity of their students for some time they are somewhat eager to see who the parents of these children are! It’s interesting that we may be curious so, because practically speaking, why should it matter? Whether it does or doesn’t is almost irrelevant, but nevertheless, for some reason, the nature of the curiosity remains...
Shlomo Hamelech throws a major party. He has finally completed the building of the Beit Hamikdash, and on that same night he married himself off! What a momentous time, on two accounts. Food, drink, dancing—you name it. All is well, until—says the Gemara (Sanhedrin, 70)—Shlomo’s mother Batsheva pins him against a post, as if she was planning to “whip him up”! What did Shlomo do already? Whether it was too much partying or waking up too late the next day (see Gemara ibid, and Bamidbar Rabbah 10:4), for someone of Shlomo’s stature, it was considered somewhat of misconduct on Shlomo’s part. Hence, Batsheva chastised Shlomo: I put in so much effort to ensure that you become a great person, and you’re taking your potential and using it like this!? Everyone knows your father (David Hamlech) was a God-fearing person, but now that you demonstrate such conduct, people will say “it’s his mother who caused him to act like this.”
R’ Henoch Leibowitz asks, from Batsheva’s words, it sounds like people would have blamed David Hamelech (if not for the fact that David was a “God-fearing person”) for Shlomo’s misconduct, even though David had already long passed on years before the event of the party! Why? Moreover, why would Shlomo’s parents be looked upon in an unfavorable light, as opposed to people looking at Shlomo himself in an unfavorable light! R’ Leibowitz says, we see from here how far outsiders go in attributing children’s shortcoming to their parents, and not always necessarily to the child himself. Batsheva knew this, and therefore said, while they won’t attribute it to your father David for he was pure, they will nevertheless attribute it to me.
We can ask further: Batsheva told Shlomo that people will attribute his wrongdoing to her. Why did she add this and not just say straight up that Shlomo acted improperly? Perhaps we can explain that Batsheva was noting to Shlomo that the way we conduct ourselves doesn’t just reflect upon ourselves only, but they may also cause how our parents will be looked at.
In our parsha it speaks about the misdeed of the “Bat Kohen,” the daughter of a kohen. The pasuk (21:9) says that she “profanes her father,” which Rashi explains that she “profanes and disgraces his honor, for people will say about him, ‘cursed is he who birthed her and raised her.’” Again, why are people “passing the buck” to the father and not reprimanding the daughter herself? However, according to the above we can say that this is the nature of people, and thus the episode of the Bat Kohen lets us know that through our actions we can cause a direct impact upon the way people reflect upon our parents.
This works on the positive as well. The gemara (Yoma, 86) writes: One who learns Torah, serves Torah scholars, is honest in business and is pleasant with people, people say about him, “Praiseworthy is his father who taught him Torah, praiseworthy is his rebbe who taught him Torah.” We can ask, what about praising the individual himself? Yet, even if we grant that people do in fact give credit to the individual himself, nevertheless, we perhaps see from here the significant emphasis on attributing much of the success to the individual’s caregivers [including his rebbe, for as the Gemara (Sanhedrin 19) says, “He who teaches his friend’s son Torah is as if he gave birth to him”]. We find similarly in Pirkei Avot (chap. 2) that R’ Yochanan ben Zakai had five students, and the mishnah says that he gave specific praise for each of his students. For his student R’ Yehoshua ben Chananya he said, “praiseworthy is the one who birthed him.” What about directly praising R’ Yehoshua himself? We see here, too, that even though R’ Yehoshua himself is certainly worthy of praise, there is something important directed specifically in regard to whom he came from.
Based on this, perhaps we can understand a dimension into the pasuk in our parsha: “You should not profane the name of Hashem; and I shall be sanctified amidst Bnei Yisrael” (22:32). A person might think his actions and the way he carries himself are between him and himself. However, we represent Hashem, and are considered “children of Hashem,” and thus, we can directly impact the way people reflect upon “where we ultimately came from.” The Gemara (Kiddushin 30) says: “There are three partners in a person’s creation—his father, his mother and Hashem.” The impacts of how we act, how we talk, how we present ourselves, etc. are not limited to our personal sphere, but extend to our parents and Hashem.
Perhaps this can explain a famous question, as to why the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents (which is a mitzvah between person and person) is part of the first half of the luchot, which are all mitzvot between person and Hashem, as opposed to being part of the second half of the luchot, which are mitzvot pertaining between person and person. Maybe we can explain that the common denominator is that when a person lives according to the Torah and carries himself properly, the same way people will praise his parents and his parents will be honored by him, they may also praise Hashem and thus Hashem (the third “parent”) is also honored through him.
Binyamin Benji can be reached at [email protected]