When the People of Israel received the Torah, the Midrash says Moses went up to heaven. The angels complained to G‑d that He was going to give this beautiful gift, the Torah, to human beings! How could this be? The Torah is too spiritual and too holy for human beings.

Moses was frightened of the angels, but G‑d told him to hold onto His throne. Then he proceeded to ask the angels questions, some of which were: Did you go through the slavery of Egypt that is mentioned in the Torah? Do you work six days a week so that on Shabbat you rest? And so on, until he said: Do you have a father and a mother?

Angels do not have the experience of human beings. They are already intimately connected to G‑d and don’t need the Torah to become closer to G‑d. Human beings, however, need the Torah in order to have an intimate relationship with G‑d. Angels do not have parents, therefore, they cannot honor them. We, on the other hand, do.

The conversation that Moses had with the angels hints at the way we should view the world around us. Mostly, we think, “We have parents, so we should honor them.” This is true, but in actuality, there is a deeper reality. The world was given to us so that we can do mitzvot. Since we need to do the mitzvah of honoring parents, G‑d gave us parents. Or, in other words, G‑d gave us parents so that we can honor them. G‑d gave us a world so that we can become closer to Him by doing mitzvahs.

There is this spiritual law called “honoring parents,” and we were given parents so that we can translate the spiritual entity into a physical reality. It can be compared to gravity. Gravity is a force of nature in our world. But until someone drops an apple, we do not experience this law of gravity. Honoring parents is a spiritual law in the world, but until we actually have parents, we cannot experience it. And again, of course, angels do not have parents.

Moreover, on an even more profound level, parents represent G‑d in this world.

There are various stages that a person goes through in his development of trust in G‑d.1

1) First, a newborn baby trusts that he will always be fed. The baby learns to trust that nourishment will always be there.

2) After this, a child learns to trust their primary caregiver, who is most often the mother. He realizes that this is the one who nurses him and feeds him; this is the one who changes him, bathes him and nurtures him.

3) The third stage is that the child sees that his mother trusts his father, so he, too, begins to trust his father.

4) And finally, the child begins to understand that even his father and mother are dependent on something other than themselves: their boss, the grocery store or the government.

5) As his understanding deepens, the individual eventually realizes that all those things are dependent on G‑d.

From birth onward, the relationship between the child and his parent is a paradigm for the relationship between a person and G‑d. What’s the difference between a father and a mother in this paradigm?

The mother brings forth life. Most often, the mother is warm, nourishing and nurturing. She loves her child unconditionally, and her child loves her back. The father tends to be not as hands-on, a bit more distant; he is often the disciplinarian, laying down the rules. The child often is in awe of his father.

The beginning of love of G‑d begins with the mother. The beginning of awe of G‑d begins with the father. By experiencing these traits of G‑d through parents, the child begins to experience awe and love of G‑d.

Father adds structure, the backbone of the home: morality, rules and tradition. This is what holds up the home. The mother brings forth life, filling up the structure with love and vitality. She adds warmth and encouragement. Now, of course, a father can certainly bring warmth and vitality into the home, and a mother can certainly bring rules and structure into a home. However, the essence of masculinity is to provide the foundation, and the essence of femininity is to fill it with content.

This is similar to a building; the concrete and the steel goes up first. This is extremely important because a building will fall down without it. But it needs insulation, inside walls, and then, of course, furniture and rooms to make it useful and livable. Both parts are necessary in order to live in the building.

We learn life and vitality from the Matriarchs. They were busy creating life, creating the continuity of the Jewish people. They did everything in their power to produce the tribes of the Jewish nation.

We learn structure from our forefathers. In Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of Our Fathers”), it states: “Upon three things the world stands: on Torah, on avodah (prayer/service), and on gemilut chasadim (kindness).” Jacob who was “a man of the tent” embodies Torah study; Isaac, whose character was inner directed, embodies prayer and service; and Abraham, whose home was always open to strangers, embodied kindness. These are the pillars, the structure of being a Jew.

Interestingly, there are four cups of wine and three matzahs at the Passover seder. The Maharal in his commentary says these correspond to the three patriarchs and the four matriarchs.

Wine is spiritual in that it is one of the few materials that gets better with age. We use wine to raise every occasion to a level of holiness. We make Kiddush on Shabbat and holidays; we use wine at a brit milah and at the chuppah of a wedding. Wine is life-affirming; it is red. It is flesh and blood, representing women—the matriarchs who brought forth the Jewish people.

Matzahs are the simplest type of bread that can be made—flour and water. Matzah represents the skin and the bones. This is representative of masculinity: bringing forth the bare structure. The Jewish people could not exist without the framework that our patriarchs established.

Flesh and blood cannot exist without skin and bones. Skin and bones cannot exist without flesh and blood. The image of father, and the image of mother both play vital roles. Moreover, by honoring both father and mother, we learn to connect and develop a relationship with G‑d. We learn to love and be in awe of our Creator.