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Honoring One’s Parents, כבוד אב ואם

Kiddushin 30b

There are three partners in the creation of man. According to the Talmud, the father contributes to the formation of the child’s bones, sinews, nails, brain and white of the eye. The mother provides the skin, the flesh, the hair and the black of the eye. God provides the soul, the facial countenance, eyesight, hearing, the power of speech, the ability to walk, insight and understanding. Accordingly, in this triangle of creation, parents are to be respected and revered in the same way as one respects and fears God Himself.

One demonstrates reverence, morah, for one’s parents by not standing or sitting in their place, by standing up when they enter the room, by not contradicting them and by not addressing them or referring to them by their first names. One demonstrates respect, kavod, by providing for their physical needs, including feeding, clothing and taking them places when they can no longer take care of themselves.

The expenses involved in providing for one’s parents physical needs should be defrayed by the parents, if the parents have the means, or by their children, if they have the means and the parents do not. If one cannot afford it, one is not required by the halacha to go into debt to defray the expenses. One is required, however, to do whatever one physically can to make one’s parents comfortable, unless this would involve loss of work required for one’s daily existence.

As part of the duty to honor one’s parents, when talking about them after their death they should be referred to as “my parent for whom I should be an atonement,” and after 12 months, my parent of saintly blessed memory, zecher tzadik l’vracha.”

From the use of the word tira’u (revere), which is written in the plural form, the Rabbis derive that the duty to revere and honor one’s parents applies both to sons and daughters. A married woman is, however, exempt from the duties involved in honoring and revering her parents if her husband objects to their performance.

When performing the duties of kibbud av v’eim in front of one’s parents, one should do so with a smile and not begrudgingly. The attitude of the provider is more important than the monetary value of the services provided.

The duty of kibbud av v’eim applies also to one’s step-parent during the lifetime of one’s biological parent and, if possible, thereafter. The duty also extends to one’s older siblings. It also applies to one’s grandparents, but to a lesser extent. One is not obliged to perform kibbud av v’eim duties for one’s parents in law. Parents in law should, however, be given the same deference as is given to all one’s elders.

If one witnesses a parent about to transgress a Torah law, one should be careful not to embarrass them. One should couch one’s language in a question form, like, “Father, doesn’t the Torah say one should not…”

If one receives competing requests from one’s mother and one’s father at the same time and it is impossible to fulfill both simultaneously, the order, according to the halacha is, father first and then mother. If, however, the parents are divorced, one may decide for oneself which request to fulfill first.

If one is busy with another mitzvah, such as going to a funeral and one’s parents require one’s attention, one should try to find somebody else to go to the funeral unless no one is available—in which case one should go oneself.

There are extreme examples of kibbud av v’eim. Perhaps the most famous example is the incident with the jeweler, Damah the son of Netinah of Askelon. One afternoon, the Rabbis urgently needed two jewels for the shoulder straps of the High Priest’s garment. They came to his door with a fortune in hand, but the key to the chest that contained the precious stones was lying under his father’s pillow and Damah’s father was sleeping at the time. ather than disturb his father, Damah sent the Rabbis elsewhere.


Raphael Grunfeld, a partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, received Semichah in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Harav Haga’on Dovid Feinstein, Zt”l. This article is an extract from Raphael’s book “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerai’m” available for purchase at www.amazon.com/dp/057816731X or by e-mailing Raphael at [email protected].

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