Double-teaming honors: Shabbat and parents


In the listing of ingredients for the proper pursuit of holiness, the Torah puts reverence of one’s parents and the observance of the Sabbath at the fore front, on just about an equal footing.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch clarifies that the term used in the Torah — imo v’aviv tira’u, which is often translated as “fear your parents,” is better understood as an instruction to “be mindful of our parents and of our obligation to fulfill their wishes.”

More importantly, Hirsch says, it is not “the good that parents do for their children, but the mission given to the parents concerning their children that is the basis of the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents.”

As to why observance of the Sabbath is attached so closely to the commandment to fulfill the wishes of the parents, Hirsch explains, “A child who sees his parents observing the Sabbath will learn from their example to place his world at G-d’s feet; obedience to parents leads to obedience to G-d.”

In a larger sense, the mitzvah of reverence for the parents should be an easy one to fulfill. If I owe everything, life itself, to my parents, I should logically want to repay the kindness and fulfill their every wish.

But Hirsch twists this idea on its head. It’s not just that parents bring children into the world — their responsibilities to their children do not end there. It is they who are to mold and shape and guide their children so that their children will understand the role their parents play in raising them, not only as ethical human beings but as incredible Jews. This reverence of parents is merely a reflection of the reverence of G-d that the parents demonstrate and display to their children.

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When I talk to younger children about G-d, I use their parents as the example. “When you want something and you ask your parents for it, do they always give it to you? Or do they sometimes say ‘No’?”

What’s fascinating is that the Sabbath and honoring one’s parents share similar billing in the Decalogue, and both appear there with a different action word. We are told in Shmot 20 to “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy,” and to “Honor your parents.”

In his book “Or HaDeah,” Hassidic Rabbi Uri Langer suggests that just as shamor and zachor were said in one saying with regard to the Sabbath (Rosh Hashana 27) kavod and yirah (honoring and revering) were uttered in one saying.

It is easy to honor one’s parents when they are gone — to say kaddish, to commemorate a yahrzeit, to say the kel malei rachamim, to speak of them in a respectful way. But on equal footing is the obligation to revere them — to listen and to fulfill their will — when they are alive.

One reveres one’s parents through following their ways.

In the end, the responsibility is two-directional. The child has to follow the ways of the parent, but the parent must make the life choices and commitments to be admired by and be desirable to the child. It is no one else’s responsibility. Not the school, not the shul, not the rabbi, not one’s friend, not even one’s own parents (the children’s grandparents).

The observance of the Sabbath is a good first ingredient to achieving the reverence. But even the observance of the Sabbath requires a lot more than “not violating the law.” We must make Shabbos a day of holiness of beauty and the beginnings of a family bond that creates reverence of the holy day and reverence of G-d.

Through this first ingredient, may those of us who are parents merit to enjoy the honor and reverence we receive as we model it for our children through our own honor and reverence for G-d.

Originally published in 2011.