Honoring Father and Mother
Honoring Father and Mother
1. Although the Children of Noah are not commanded to honor father and mother, they have accepted the obligation of performing this meritorious act from the beginning of time and have distinguished themselves through the ages with this righteous behavior.1
The Talmud2 tells the story of Doma ben Nessina, one of the Children of Noah who excelled in the performance of honoring his father to the highest degree. Doma ben Nessina lived in a small village, and it was learned by the Sages of Israel that he had possession of a rare gem that the Sages wanted for the Holy Temple. They traveled to Doma ben Nessina’s village and offered him a fabulous sum of money for the gem. He refused their offer because the key to the chest where the gem lay safeguarded was with his father, and his father lay asleep. Rather than wake his father, he turned down the Sages’ offer, and they returned to Jerusalem.
As a reward for his performance of the commandment of honoring one’s father, the next year a red heifer was miraculously born in Doma ben Nessina’s herd. (The red heifer, a unique creation that is born only through a miracle, is essential for the performance of one of the ritual purifications in the time of the Holy Temple.) The Sages traveled to Doma ben Nessina again and offered him anything he wanted for his red heifer. Seeing that it was all a miracle from God, he took the same amount they were willing to pay him for the precious gem the year before.
2. One should be extremely meticulous in honoring and respecting one’s mother and father, for it is compared to honoring God. Three partners share in the creation of a child: the mother and the father provide the child with a body, and God provides the child with a soul.3
3. What is considered respecting one’s parents? One should not occupy the designated place for one’s father in a council of elders, nor should one sit at the designated place of one’s parents during meals, nor should one publicly contradict the words of one’s parents.
4. What is considered honoring one’s parents? One must provide them with food, drink, and clothing from the parents’ own funds. If the parents have no funds, the child is obligated to provide for them from his private charity funds. One should escort and help them to and from the house and supply all their needs cheerfully. If a child provides even fattened hens for his parents, but does so rudely, he will receive Divine punishment.
5. If one’s mother or father are sleeping and the key to the child’s place of business is under their heads, it is forbidden to wake them even if there would be a loss of profit. But, if the parents would benefit from the profit and be saddened by the loss if they were not awakened, it is the child’s duty to awaken them and cause them to rejoice over the situation.
If, however, the parent intentionally wanted to cause the son or daughter a financial loss, for example by throwing away money, the child can stop the parent. This is only where the parent has no means of reimbursing the child if the child takes legal recourse. Some say that even if the parent has the means of reimbursement, the child should prevent the parent from causing financial loss in order to avoid the anguish of a legal battle. If the money has already been thrown away, one may not shout at or insult the parent, but may quietly initiate legal proceedings.
6. If the child needs a favor from the community and knows that the favor will be granted because of the esteem in which his parent is held, and if the child also knows that he can obtain the favor based on his own position of esteem, he should not say, “Do it for me because of me,” but rather, “Do it for me because of my parent.” This way it is an honor for the parent. If, however, the request can be made without personal mention, one does not have to mention the parent.
7. Suppose a mother asks her child to do a task and the child complies, and then, later, the father asks, “Who told you to do this?” If the child feels that by stating, “Mother told me to do it,” the father will become angry at the mother, then the child should incur the father’s wrath rather than implicate the mother.
8. Children must rise and remain standing in the presence of their mother or father.
9. One is obligated to honor his mother and father after their deaths. For example, when the child mentions the deceased parent’s name, he should add, “May his (or her) memory be blessed in the World to Come,” or, “May he (or she) rest in peace.”
10. Even if the father or mother are wicked and transgress the Seven Commandments, the child must honor and revere them. Even a child born to a forbidden union is obligated to honor and revere his parents. Others hold that one does not have to honor and revere wicked parents until they repent of their deeds, but it is forbidden to cause them grief. However, it is better to follow the first opinion.
11. If a child sees a parent transgress one of the Seven Commandments, the child should not chastise the parent in a rude way by saying, “You have violated one of the commandments.” Rather, the child should put it in the form of a question, such as, “Father (or Mother), doesn’t it state in the Seven Laws of Noah such-and-such?” In this manner, the correction comes in the way of the child seeking information rather than reprimanding. The parent will understand the implication, correct himself or herself, and will not be embarrassed.
12. If the parents tell the child to transgress one or more of the Seven Universal Laws, the child should not listen. The parents have an obligation to honor God, and therefore the child has to honor God’s wishes before the wishes of the parent.
13. Both men and women have an obligation to honor and revere their parents. However, a married woman owes her devotion to her husband and is exempt from honoring her mother and father. But if he does not object, she is obliged to honor her parents as much as possible.
14. Whoever shames his or her mother or father, even with words or gestures, is considered cursed by God, as it says, “Cursed is the one who dishonors his father or mother” (Deut. 27:16).
15. If the mother or father have a splinter deeply imbedded, the son or daughter may not remove it because a wound may result, and a child is forbidden to inflict any kind of a wound on a parent. Even if the child is a doctor, he may not operate, though his intention may be only to heal. However, this is only in the case where there are other doctors available. Where the need is pressing and only the child can help, he or she may do whatever is necessary.
16. If one’s parents have become mentally ill, God forbid, the child should attempt to act with them in accord with their mental state until God will have mercy on them. If the situation becomes aggravated and the child can no longer handle it, then he or she must leave the parents in the charge of professionals.
17. A parent should not be too exacting in demanding honor from the child, but be forgiving and overlook the shortcomings of a child.
18. A parent should not strike a grown child. This refers to the child’s maturity, not his chronological age, and is based on the specific nature of the child. If a parent sees that a grown child has a rebellious nature, he should reason and discuss the situation with the child. Striking the child will only aggravate matters.
19. A child is obligated to honor a stepmother as long as the father is still living. Also the child must honor the stepfather so long as the mother is still living. It is also proper conduct to honor the stepmother or stepfather even after the death of one’s own parent.
20. One must honor an older brother even if he is only a half brother.
21. A man must honor his father-in-law and mother-in-law as one would honor any other important elder, through kind words and good deeds.
22. One who truly wishes to honor his mother and father should study and observe the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah and should perform good deeds. It is the greatest honor possible for the parents when people say, “Happy are the parents who raised such a child.”
But a child who does not walk in the right path brings reproach to the parents and disgraces them in the most severe way. Furthermore, parents who are concerned about the welfare of their children should be involved in the learning and practice of the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah and should perform acts of kindness so that they may please God and their fellow man and make their children proud of them. One who does not do so disgraces the children. And worse than this, children die for the sins of their parents, as it says, “Visiting the transgression of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me” (Exod. 20:5).
There is no cruelty greater than causing the death of one’s own child through one’s sins. Conversely, no one exhibits more compassion for his children than a righteous person, as it says, “And showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me” (Exodus 20:6).
1 Nahal Eshkol, Laws of Circumcision, chapter 39, law 11
2 Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 31a
3 Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, Chapter 143, Laws 1-22 151