24 Jan 2019 Parshas Yisro: Legacy and Continuity
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Yisro, the purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) comes to fruition. When Hashem promised Moshe the people would be physically freed from the Egyptian bondage, He further promised that redemption would not end with physical freedom. וְלָקַחְתִּ֨י אֶתְכֶ֥ם לִי֙ לְעָ֔ם – And I will take you to Me as a nation, and I will be to you a G-d (Shemos 6:7). The Ibn Ezra teaches (ibid) – ולקחתי – כאשר תקבלו את התורה על הר סיני – And I will take you to Me: When the Israelites will receive the Torah on Har Sinai.
With the great Revelation at Sinai in this week’s parsha, and the transmission of the Aseres Ha’Dibros (The Ten Declarations), the former slaves are transformed into a people unto G-d. And Elokim spoke all these words, saying: I am Hashem; Do not have gods of others before Me; Do not take G-d’s Name in vain; Remember/Guard the Sabbath day to keep it holy; Honor your father and mother; Do not kill; Do not commit adultery; Do not steal; Do not bear false witness against your fellow; Do not covet all that your neighbor has (ibid, 20:1-14).
In regard to the fifth dibra, the Torah commands us: כַּבֵּ֥ד אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֑ךָ לְמַ֙עַן֙ יַאֲרִכ֣וּן יָמֶ֔יךָ עַ֚ל הָאֲדָמָ֔ה – Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened on the land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving you (20:12).
Regarding this foundational mitzvah, upon which the beginning of morality in our Jewish society begins and rests, R’ S. R. Hirsch powerfully teaches, “Yetzias Mitzrayim and Matan Torah are the two basic facts in the history of the Jewish people that form the foundation of our allegiance to G-d as the Master of our fate and the Guide of our lives. These two facts are historical truths. However, the sole guarantee of their authenticity is tradition, and tradition depends solely on its faithful transmission from parents to children, and on its willing acceptance by children from the hands of their parents.
“Thus, the survival of the great Divine institution that is Judaism rests entirely on the theoretical and practical obedience of children to parents. Accordingly, כיבוד אב ואם is the basic condition for the eternity of the Jewish nation. (All above italics in the original.)
“Through the father and the mother, G-d gives the child more than just his physical existence. Parents are also the link that connects the child to the Jewish past and enables him or her to be a Jewish man or woman. From the parents, the child receives the tradition of the Jewish mission, which is shaped by knowledge, a code of conduct and upbringing. The parents transmit to the child Jewish history and Jewish Law, so that eventually he, in turn, will pass them on to his own children. Just as he looks up to his parents, so will his own children someday look up to him. Without this connection between parents and children, the chain of generations is broken, the hopes of the Jewish past are lost for the future, and the Jewish nation ceases to exist…(Italics added)
“The mitzvah of כיבוד אב ואם requires of us that we demonstrate in every way, and in our whole behavior toward our parents, our deep appreciation of the great importance that G-d has given to our parents in our regard…
“It is this mission of the parents – not the amount of kindness, large or small, they have shown their children – that lies at the root of the mitzvah of כיבוד אב ואם, a mitzvah that increases with age and maturity of the children and extends even beyond the death of the parents. The unconditional and imposing demands of this mitzvah transcend by far any moral obligation that ordinary morality – the so-called morality of reason – could deduce from considerations of gratitude.”
So foundational is this mitzvah, and of such critical importance, that it bridges the mitzvos bein adam la’Makom (mitzvos governing interaction between man and G-d), to the mitzvos bein adam la’chavairo (mitzvos governing interaction between man and fellow man). For כיבוד אב ואם is a mitzvah in both categories. Through honoring our parents, we learn to honor G-d; through appreciating our parents, we learn to appreciate G-d; and through serving and revering our parents, we learn to serve and revere G-d.
“When bar mitzvah boys asked R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman zt’l what kabbalah, resolution, they should take upon themselves for their bar mitzvah, he usually suggested working on two traits/mitzvos: honoring their parents, and saying only the truth. In regard to kibbud av va’eim, besides the hakaras ha’tov (recognition of good and appreciation) a person must show his parents, it’s good to learn that one must listen to others, and, at times, make one’s own desires subservient to a higher authority…” (Reb Aharon Leib, Artscroll, p.332).
“Numerous talmidim witnessed R’ Mosheh Twersky’s, zt’l HY”D, exceptional respect for his mother, commenting that these occasions were the only time they ever saw their Rebbi move with such speed. Rebbetzin Twersky shared a humorous example of her husband’s superlative kibbud eim. Just a few weeks before R’ Twersky’s petirah (passing), his mother, Rebbetzin Atarah Twersky, came for a visit. R’ Twersky was learning in the dining room, and his mother came in to get something. R’ Twersky immediately stood up to his full height and remained standing until his mother left the room. Rebbetzin Atarah didn’t notice that her son had stood for her. A few minutes later, she again needed something from the dining room. When she reentered the room, R’ Twersky stood up and remained standing until his mother left the room. This happened a third time, at which point Rebbetzin Atarah realized what was going on. She subsequently told her daughter-in-law, ‘I stopped going in there, because otherwise he would have kept that up the whole day!’” (A Malach in Our Midst, p.255-256)
In honoring our parents, we are thereby honoring G-d – Who graciously bestowed these very parents upon us – and we are ensuring that the transmission of Torah will continue from generation to generation.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,