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Why Do We Have to Respect Our Parents?

Why Do We Have to Respect Our Parents?

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Photo: Gabriella Fabbri
Photo: Gabriella Fabbri

The commandment to honor your parents is one of the Ten Commandments. The verse states (Exodus 20:12), “Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the L‑rd, your G‑d, is giving you.”

The basis for the commandment to honor our parents might be seen as rational and reasonable, since it would only seem right to acknowledge all that our parents gave us. However, ultimately, we honor our parents because G‑d commands us to; so even if it seems like an attitude of respect doesn't apply in our situation, we should still show respect.1

However, the sages do discuss several reasons for the commandment to honor your parents:

  1. Parents are partners with G‑d in the creation of a child; therefore, respecting your parents is also respecting G‑d, the ultimate Creator.2
  2. Honoring your parents expresses thankfulness to those who brought you into this world.3 Just like you should be grateful to someone who does you a favor, so too, you should be grateful to your parents, who are the only reason you are here in this world to begin with.4

Others note that an integral part of this commandment is respect for your parents’ heritage and their knowledge, to the point that you rely on it; for that is the way that an understanding of our world is passed down through the generations.5 Our current existence is not formed in a vacuum, separate from the worlds of our parents, their parents and so on; rather, we are all one continuous chain of existence.6

Two Types of Commandments

It is interesting to note the difference between the first two reasons mentioned above.

The commandments in general, and specifically the Ten Commandments, can be divided into two categories:

  1. Between man and G‑d.
  2. Between man and man.

When it comes to commandments that deal with issues between man and G‑d, when we return to G‑d and resolve to do what is correct, G‑d forgives. However, when it comes to transgressing a commandment that deals with another person, returning to G‑d does not help, and we need to turn to the other person to request forgiveness.7

According to the first explanation above, honoring your parents falls into the category of a commandment between man and G‑d.8 The implication is that it would be enough to just return to G‑d should one transgress the commandment.

However, most commentators include the commandment of honoring your parents in the list of commandments between man and man;9 therefore, should you transgress, you would need to ask for forgiveness from your parents too.10

See Kibbud Av Vaem: Honor Due to Parents.

Footnotes
1.

If one has an abusive parent, one should contact a competent rabbi to discuss the details.

2.

See Nachmanides, the Ramban, on Exodus, ibid. See at length the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, Lekutei Sichot, vol. 36, p. 95.

3.

See the Jerusalem Talmud, Peah 4a, ch. 1:1.

4.

Sefer Ha-Chinuch (published anonymously in the 13th century) ch. 33.

5.

Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508), the Abarbanel, on Exodus, ibid.

6.

Sefer Ha-Chinuch, ibid.

7.

Mishnah, Yumah 8:9; The Code of Jewish Law, Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 606:1.

8.

As Nachmanides explains, ibid., that the Ten Commandments are divided into the two categories. The first five are between man and G d, and the second five are between man and man. This division would place respecting parents in the category of a commandment between man and G d.

9.

See also Maimonides’ Pirush Hamishnayot on Peah, ibid.

10.

See Encyclopedia Talmudit vol. 26, p. 374.

Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Julia Wilhelm Windhoek October 9, 2017

I don’t understand what you guys are saying Reply

anonomous June 21, 2016

great very helpful stuff Reply

Anonymous May 1, 2016

i very very agree with this very very goood Reply

Eden and Daniel Los Angeles March 22, 2016

We will do and listen to our parents as said. Reply

Anonymous ft. laderdale March 24, 2014

respect Respecting your parents is the most amazing thing that a child can do for their parents Reply

Arand Chiz Brazil November 8, 2012

Parents to son I think, and do, in a reverse sense, that parents must respect and take care of their offspring. There is only one reason: children didn't ask to be born; parents decided to put them here and then must provide love, care, support, etc. Reply

Warren Alberta Canada November 7, 2012

Commandment vs Law I am not a Jew, I just read these for interest and understanding but this article caused me to wonder is there a difference between a Commandment and a Law of God? Reply

Anonymous denver, colorado March 19, 2012

it was very great I took in everything that was written and I appreciate it more now! Reply

Jan Schulman Oxnard, CA March 19, 2012

CASA Workers I have known a number of amazing CASA workers who work with abused and neglected children and they are fantastic! That is an area of volunteerism that has so much need and is available in many states. Children who have been mistreated by their parents need tremendous support and one 'special person' they can trust and depend on. It involves a committment of time and soul, but the rewards are beyond anything you can imagine: You just might save a young life. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA March 18, 2012

Fegele, you are right. In fact, In my sociology course in college, we read that many decades ago, children were the property of parents and wives the property of husbands. So, any violence in the family was not considered a police matter. In New York, parents were allowed to throw their infants into the streets to die. Husbands used to be allowed to put their wives into mental institutions for any reason or no reason. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton, Florida March 16, 2012

Honor/Respect Respect goes both way and one should not ignore any unsafe situation, as pushing the dust under the carpet, which was done years ago and by which so many children suffered.
Parents make mistakes without realizing it and in some instances the children should understand that and not hold grudges against them depending the extent of abuse.
Parents should not be allowed to take advantage because they gave birth and think that they can do whatever with them. Children are human beings and not objects that people created. Reply

Anonymous Lonestar May 11, 2017
in response to Feigele:

The commandment is for the offspring but reasonability to walk honorably falls on the parents Reply

Feigele Boca Raton, Florida March 16, 2012

Of course you should honor your parents... because you are their flesh and blood and they help you grow as an adult trying to protect you against all odds…but what if some parents didn’t want their children or others abuse them, then they become outsider monsters to those children’s eyes and in fear there cannot be respect.
To honor parents also means that they have to act properly towards their children, unless they are not responsible mentally or physically. It is for the parents to show and educate the children how to respect them by acting themselves appropriately. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA March 15, 2012

The word HONOR is not exactly the same As respect. It can be, but honor means s to be of great moral character. If you are of great moral character, this is giving your parents a mitzvah. So, to honor your mother and father so YOUR days are long on the earth have to do with you and not with them. It is also like this: whatever they do, whether good or bad, good parent or abusive parent, YOU have to be of good moral character anyway. This raises their "sins" or elevates them into a state of dignity no matter what they do. They may be alcoholics, drug addicts, but if you come out ok, then when they die, they can say they did good for the world to bring you into the world. So. that is one good thing they did. I remember telling my grandparents my mom was hurting me (abusive). They quoted that scripture to tell me to shut up and not tell anyone about it. So, I didn't. That was not right. But, it is the commandment which was misinterpreted, not that the commandment was wrong. Reply

Barney Wolfson Phoenix, AZ March 15, 2012

Honor your Parents Years ago I was a volunteer for a group called "Court appointed special advocate". I worked with children who were abused by one or both parents. Social workers could not help. Please tell me what a Rabbi would help? Reply

Anonymous Oxnard, CA March 15, 2012

abuse that is unforgivable in the case of molestation/abuse, it is difficult to find forgiveness, much more: honor. how can one honor a degenerate? a pedophile? it disgraces the idea of honor. it is impossible to imagine that G-d wants us to honor such monsters, even if they are our parents. G-d knows better, even if we don't. Reply

Sientje Seinen chilliwack , Canada March 12, 2012

respecting parents I believe yes that one also should respect the commandment, the first commandment with a promise.
If our parents are abusive, one still needs to respect them, but let us say a parent ask you something that is against the commandment of the Lord, like slander a neighbour then one would have to politely decline. Reply

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