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Honoring Parents

May 8, 2009 | by Lori Palatnik

Honoring parents is one of the hardest commandments in the Torah. Must you do everything they say? What if you disagree with them?

We make the mistake of thinking that our parents owe us. We think that they should feed and clothe us, pay for our education and our weddings. After all, we didn't ask to be born, right? Wrong. Our parents don't owe us. We owe them. They gave us life.

The gratefulness that we should feel for this gift of life should inspire us to give back to our parents.

Our gifts don't necessarily have to be material ones. The Talmud says that we can serve our parents an elaborate feast fit for a king and not fulfill the mitzvah of honoring them. Yet it goes on to say that we can serve them "plain barley" and show them great honor.

The difference is in our attitude. Physical and material gestures are futile if they are offered without the intent of showing gratitude for all that they have given us.


But what about all the things they did wrong? What if my parents were too critical or negative? Why should I be grateful?

Imagine that your parents surprise you on your 20th birthday with a brand new car! You run out in excitement, but you stop in your tracks when you see it. It doesn't have wheels! You are furious and spend the next weeks sitting in the house pouting. After all, what good is a car without wheels?

What would be a more appropriate response?

Go out, earn some money, and buy the wheels!

In life, we are often too quick to blame our parents for our problems and shortcomings. But we are acting like the person who gets the car without the wheels. Did our parents make mistakes raising us? Of course they did! Everyone makes mistakes.

Our challenge in life is to accept what our parents gave us and make the best of it.

Our challenge in life is to accept what they gave us -- the good and the bad -- and make our maximum effort in life with what we have.

Their mistakes do not eliminate our obligation to give them honor. Again, they gave us life.

Even if we disagree with them, we must do it carefully. We should not contradict, correct, or shame them. We must refrain from talking harshly to them. If they say something wrong, instead of saying, "Dad, you're wrong," we should be more gentle as in, "Dad, it seems to me that..." Your motivation and attitude make the difference.


We learn something priceless when we fulfill this commandment. Showing gratitude to our parents teaches us how to be grateful to God.

The Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai are listed on the tablets in columns of five and five. On the right tablet are the commandments regarding the laws between a person and God (for example, "Don't worship idols"), and on the left tablet the laws between people (for example, "Don't murder"). Yet the mitzvah to honor one's parents is on the right with the commandments between man and God.

The relationship between parents and children has very much to do with our relationship with God.

We learn from this that the relationship between parents and children has very much to do with our relationship with God. Having children teaches us kindness, because we give to them constantly and unselfishly. We also learn mercy, because we forgive them even when they make the gravest mistakes (and even when we warned them first). And we love them more than life itself.

God is always giving to us -- every flower, every raindrop, every breath. And He forgives us even when we make grave mistakes (even if He clearly warned us first). And He loves us more than our parents loved us, and more than we will ever love our children. The all-encompassing devotion we get from our parents and transmit to our children gives us just an inkling of what it means to have that same love from God.


That is why we must teach our children to honor us. It's not for us but for them. It is the only way that they can develop that important relationship with their Creator, a bond that will carry them through all that life will bring.

Maimonides says that this commandment extends even after our parents are gone. Remembering them through our learning, prayers, thoughts, and words is a continuation of honor.

This commandment for life extends beyond life itself. To strive as best we can to fulfill it properly means the deepest rewards here and for eternity.


Adapted from "Love Your Neighbor" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

This quick overview gives the basics of honoring parents. These few simple rules can make an amazing difference in your relationship with your parents.

  1. Honor your parents by treating them as distinguished, even if they are not.

  2. Speak to your parents in a soft and pleasant tone. The Talmud (Baba Metziah 58b) tells us that distressing someone with words is worse than cheating them financially. Taking someone's dignity and happiness is worse than taking their money. We would never think of cheating our mother, yet when it comes to speaking disrespectful words too often slip out.

  3. Treat your parents respectfully by addressing them always as "Mom" or "Dad" or "Mother" or "Father." Calling your parents by their first names is considered disrespectful, as is disturbing their sleep, and sitting in their usual place -- whether at home or in the synagogue or another public setting.

  4. Serve your parents food and drink with a pleasant expression. Welcome them in and escort them out.

You are not expected to honor your parents' behavior which is abusive or disrespectful of you. For that matter parents are prohibited from acting cruelly toward their children, or needlessly anguish them. (Sefer Habris, part 2, no. 13)

You are not expected to honor your parents' behavior which is abusive or disrespectful of you.

Furthermore, parents are forbidden to burden their children excessively, and to be overly concerned about the respect due them. This directive to parents refers to all sorts of burdens including psychological ones, as very often the stress and pressures that parents bring to bear on their children can cause great strain.

For parents and children to have a proper relationship, parents must show understanding, respect, and patience toward their children. Every child needs to be loved by his parents and, most importantly, to be accepted for what he or she is.

from Lori Palatnik's
"Remember My Soul"
. Buy the book from


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