In the past weeks we have discussed the philosophical basis behind the
command to honor our parents. We will now discuss the laws involved in
the commandment. In truth there are four separate commandments with
regard to a child’s conduct towards his parents. They are:
“Honor your father and mother so that your days will be lengthy
on the land which Hashem your G-d has given you1 .”
“A man must fear his mother and father, and observe my Shabboses, I
am the Lord your G-d2 .”
“One who strikes his father or mother will surely die3 .”
“One who curses his father or mother will surely die4 .”
In the coming weeks we shall analyze each command in detail.
We will begin with the command to honor our parents, (known in Hebrew as
kibud av v’eim). The Gemara tells us that ‘honoring’ refers to providing
the needs of our parents; this specifically includes making sure that they
have sufficient food, drink and clothing. Thus, for example, when a
parent asks his child to bring him a drink, the child is obligated by the
Torah to do so. It also includes looking after one’s parents if they are
unhealthy or elderly and need to be looked after in some fashion.
The question arises when helping one’s parents will be at the expense of
the child’s time or money5 . Must a
child even support his parent financially? The law is that he is not
obligated to do so. For example, the child is not obligated to pay the
health expenses that his parent incurs, rather the parent must pay
himself. The problem arises if the parent has no money - in such a case
the child is obligated to help his parent financially as part of his
general obligation to give charity, but not because of the law to honor
his parents. The laws of charity state that one must give to those
closest to him before giving to strangers, consequently, providing for
one’s parents takes first priority. Even in such a case, there is a limit
to how much of one’s own money one must spend in order to provide for his
parents - one does not have to give away more than one fifth of his money.
Similarly, one does not necessarily have to devote a vast amount of time
in order to look after his parents. For example, one is not required to
give up his livelihood in order to provide for his parent’s needs.
These laws teach us that honoring does not merely mean being polite to
one’s parents. Rather, part of our debt of gratitude to them is that we
should strive to provide for their needs.
1 Shemos, Parshas Yisro, 20:12. It is found in the ‘Ten
Commandments’. 2 Vayikra, Parshas Kedoshim, 19:3. 3 Shemos, Parshas Mishpatim, 21:15. 4 Ibid, 21:17. 5 There are many varied situations that can arise with regard
to the obligation to look after and financially provide for, one’s
parents - we are only providing a general guide to the laws. In specific
cases, one should ask an Orthodox Rabbi how to proceed.