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Browse Torah Articles: Sefer Devarim: Parashat Vaethanan: The Easy Commandment

Contributed by: R. Frand

Honor your father and mother, as Hashem your G-d has commanded you, so that you may live long. (Devarim 5:16)

Why should we honor our fathers and mothers? The Torah gives us one reason in Parashat Shemot (20:12), "So that you may live long." In this week's Vaet'hanan, however, the Torah gives an additional reason, "As Hashem your G-d has commanded you." What is the significance of this additional phrase?

The Meshech Hochma refers to the Talmud Yerushalmi that considers honoring parents an "easy commandment." Every person understands that debts have to be repaid. If someone lends you $100,000 when you need it, you would be only too happy to repay the money once you have enough of your own. It would not be a hard thing to do.

By the same token, every person also understands that he has a moral obligation to repay his debt of gratitude to his parents. After all, the cost of raising a child must be at least between $100,000 and $200,000. Not to mention the time, effort and energy parents invest in their children. Therefore, the least people can do is honor their parents. It is not a hard thing to make such a small payment on such a large debt.

The Torah tells us here that this is not the proper motivation for honoring parents. It is not the self-evident obligation to make at least a small payment on a debt owed the parents. It is an obligation incumbent on us solely because "Hashem your G-d has commanded you" to do so.

The Torah waited until Parashat Vaet'hanan to make this point, because it becomes most clear after forty years in the desert. During those years, raising children was easier than it ever was. They did not have to be fed. There was food from heaven. They did not need to be given to drink. There was water from Miriam's well. They did not need new shoes and clothing all the time. Nothing ever wore out. Most likely they didn't need orthodontic braces either, because life in the desert was paradise. And still, the Torah demanded that parents be honored. Clearly, the obligation was to obey Hashem's commandment rather than repay a debt of gratitude. By the time the Jewish people had lived through the era of the desert, they could relate to the mitzvah of honoring parents as an independent obligation.

Today, we do not live in such luxurious conditions. Part of our respect for our parents, is undoubtedly due to all they have done for us. But as our parents age and become more complicated to help, we must remember that even if we feel like we have "repaid" them for all that they did for us (if there could be such a thing), there is a direct commandment to treat them with the utmost respect at all times.
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