Last week we discussed some of the laws behind the command to honor our
parents and saw that we are obligated to provide for their needs. What is
the law when our parents ask us to do something that does not fall into
the category of serving them, rather it is relevant to our own lives? For
example, if a parent tells his child that he should change his eating
habits, is the child obligated to listen?
The answer is that he is not technically obligated to listen to his
parentís request in such a situation. The reason is that the command to
honor our parents is limited to providing for their needs. Any request
that they make of their child with regard to his own lifestyle is not part
of the command. Of course, it is commendable and often advisable to
listen to oneís parents requests because it pleases them to do so.
However, if the child believes that the parentís request or instruction is
not in his best interests then he is not obligated to listen.
This idea take on great significance when oneís parents want him to live
his life in a certain fashion, for example to choose a particular career.
These issues are not within the realm of control that a parent has over
his child. If the child does not want to conduct his life in the way that
his parent desires, he has no obligation to do so. The child should,
nonetheless, try to act as respectfully as possible in rejecting his
This principle is explicitly stated in Jewish law with regard to whom the
child chooses to marry. The parent does not have the right to instruct
him who he should marry. It is important to note that, often, the parents
do have a point of view that is worth taking into consideration given
their life experience and deep knowledge of their child.
One may wonder why the command to honor our parents does NOT include
requests that are not directly relevant to serving the parent. The answer
is that honoring our parents does not mean living our lives in the way
that they prescribe. Every individual has the right and ability to choose
the life path that he follows and his parents do not have the right to
take this right away from him. Thus we see that honoring our parents
requires that we do our utmost to provide for their needs, but at the same
time, it does not force us to live our life according to their vision.