What Children Owe Parents

A Selection from my Favorite Jewish Sources
Rabbi Mordechai Levin

Tanakh, Exodus 20:12
Honor your father and your mother.

Talmud, Kidushin 30b
Our sages taught: There are three partners in a man: the Holy One, his father, and his mother. When a man honors his father and his mother, the Holy One says: I account it to them as though I were dwelling among them, and they were honoring Me.
When a man vexes his father or his mother, the Holy One says: I do well not to live among them, for if I were living among them, they would vex Me, too.

Talmud, Kidushin 31a
When Rabbi Ulla was asked, “How far should honoring one’s father and mother extend?” he replied, “Go and see what a certain heathen named Dama ben Netinah did for his father in Ashkelon.
Once, the sages sought some merchandise from him involving a profit to him of sixty myriads of gold denars. But the key to where the merchandise was kept was under his sleeping father’s pillow, and he would not disturb him.”

Talmud, Sanhedrin 81a
“We have been taught: When a man’s father is unwittingly violating a precept of Torah, the man should not say, “Father, you are violating a precept of Torah”; he should rather say, “But, Father, is what you are doing written in the Torah?”
Does it not amount to the same thing? [Yes]. Hence he should say, “Father, the pertinent verse in Scripture reads thus.”

Tannah DebeEliyahu
Rav “Honor thy father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12) and “You shall not commit murder” (Exodus 20:13). What is signified by having these two commandments next to each other?
That if a man has ample provisions in his house, yet refuses to give the benefit of them to his father and mother when they are young, let alone in their old age, it is as if all his days he had been committing murder in the presence of Him who is everywhere.
For this reason the commandment “Honor your father and your mother” is followed by “You shall not commit murder.”

Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer 13/24:2
Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai said: Great is the duty of honoring one’s father and mother, since the Holy One set the honor due them above the honor due to Himself.
For concerning the honor due to the Holy One, it is written, “Honor the Lord with your substance” (Proverbs 3:9).
How is one to honor God with one’s substance? One sets aside gleanings, forgotten sheaves, and the corners of the field; [one gives] heave offerings, the first tithe, the second tithe, the poor man’s tithe, and the priest’s share of the dough; one makes a lulav, a sukkah, a shofar, tefillin, and ritual fringes; one feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, and clothes the naked. In short, if you have substance, you are obligated to do all these things; but if you have no substance, you are not obligated to do even one of them.
When it comes to honoring father and mother, however, whether you have substance or not, what does Scripture say? “Honor your father and your mother,” even if you have to go about begging in doorways.

Posted in Articles, Jewish Wisdom

Rabbi Levin is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Munster, IN. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, and is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly. In 2010, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City for his years of dedicated service to the Conservative movement and the Jewish community...Full bio