Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In “Honor” of Mother’s Day

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. – Exodus 20:12

Honoring your father and your mother is a familiar and for some people seems like a relatively easy commandment to follow. On one Sunday a year in the US people flock to buy cards, flowers, candy, and other gifts in celebration of a person that, for most, is easiest to love. Sentimental memories flood the day and though media we are encouraged to spend, spend, spend, on everything from cards to diamond jewelry.

But what does it mean to Honor? First of all call your mother. I know she has probably told you this before, so do it. But also know that this is part of honoring your mother as a ‘child’ who is traveling has the obligation of keeping his/her parents from worrying by keeping in touch. So what constitutes traveling? Does it matter? In the spirit of this, in my humble opinion, one could say that keeping the parents from worrying, check in from time to time.

Other requirement toward a parent includes not speaking arrogantly to or in away to shame a parent. No one loves hubris. As a parent and former teacher I couldn’t even count the number of times a fourteen or fifteen year old had reminded me or their parents in my presence that they knew so-so much more about the world than we did. If you are of this age, be warned-this feeling will pass. And if you have done this and not been corrected, you should know it because you are surrounded by love and someone with exceedingly more patience that I have. (I was thinking that I have shoes older than you and you should stop!)

Additionally and in the same vain, a child is not allowed to contradict a parent or disturb a their sleep. Obvious emergency situations not withstanding, a fast rule from my daughter’s youth, “Never wake a sleeping adult.” What does it mean to contradict? It is similar to the above mentions speaking arrogantly, but excludes of course any dealing with any wrongdoing. For example, while a child is required to obey their parent-it is within reason. A child is NOT required to do something that would be considered a sin or against Torah. (If this is a little ‘master of the obvious’ please excuse. I want to be sure to include this rather than risk misquoting.) In this vain, a child is also NOT required to marry someone- or not marry someone based on the parent’s preference.

A child is also required to say Kaddish for a parent during the period after they have passed and on the yahrzeit each year that follows. One of my friends has a mother that he never met because she passed away shortly after childbirth. So how does he honor her? The only ways that he can, he continues to say Kaddish for her on her yahrzeit. One can also continue to do charity in memory of a parent and study Torah, as he does. I’ve never seen him miss a Yizkor service. A good model in honoring a parent, if ever one was needed.

The Talmud compares honoring one’s parent to honoring G-d. I would like to honor my own mother with this post. I meant to post it on Mother’s Day, but distracted myself with other things. One of the friends of my youth once said that sometimes the thing that we least want to do is the thing we need to do most. So here it is, better late than never I suppose. In memory of a woman who in my few short years with her influenced me most,in Honor of the person who made me a person.


  1. Beautiful. And, since one is not a mother only on the second Sunday of May, any day can be "Mother's Day." I think your mother would be proud.

  2. My daughter and I do not celebrate Mother's day on the Hallmark Holiday. We practice it every day. Her husband also honours her daily by encouraging her to stay at home and raise their 19-month old daughter, as although she could be the true 'breadwinner' of the family, they get by on his salary and he appreciates that.

  3. I do want to say that I like how you described all the ways we honour our parents. As with the 613 commandments, some are positive and some are considered negative - but they ALL are for our own good as human beings. Honouring one's parents is essential and in the top 10!
    "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. – Exodus 20:12" My daughter used to (mis)quote this and say, "Honour your father and your mother, so that you will live to see another day" ;)

  4. It's interesting that the Ten Commandments are on two tablets. The first tablet is for the mitzvahs between "man and G-d". The second tablet is for the mitzvahs between "man and man". Notice which tablet contains the mitzvah to honor one's parents. It turns out that its on the first tablet designated to represent the mitzvahs between "man and G-d". In other words, even though at first glance honoring parents should logically be a mitzvah between "man and man" because it involves human relationships, in reality G-d views honor extended to parents as honor extended to Himself and therefore, its listed on the first tablet.