CONTENTS AT A
OBLIGATIONS ON PARENTS
OBLIGATIONS ON CHILDREN
This compilation is partial and general. It
is not intended to decide practical law for individual questions, which requires vast
knowledge of the halachic material and of the methodology for deriving a p'sak (halachic
decision). Your proper observance of these laws requires your thorough and detailed
learning of the laws, and having access to a halacha (Torah law) authority.
This compendium will give you many major
basics and will help you know when you have a shaalo (practical Torah law question).
Actual specific questions must be brought by you on an individual, case by case, basis to
an experienced and reputable orthodox rabbi who has the necessary knowledge and yiras
Shomayim (fear of G-d) to give Torah instruction.
The laws of honoring and fearing parents
require enormous restraint, maturity and strength of character. Through these laws, the
Torah is, in essence, saying that, except for rare cases where the parent is dangerous or
unbearable, the human personality can rise to the demands of the situation, override
emotions and obstacles with gevurah (self-conquest, discipline), grow, cope, and fulfill
the will of the Creator Who legislated these commandments and Who promised generous reward
for their faithful, complete, devoted and good-natured fulfillment.
The Jew honors and fears parents because
these are Hashem's will, not because doing so makes logical sense or it "seems
fair" to have gratitude to parents. As with all mitzvos, our understanding is not
what justifies or causes observance. All commandments are the will of the Creator and it
is for our good to obey.
The Torah [Deuteronomy 5:16] tells us,
"Honor your father and your mother as the L-rd your G-d commanded you in order that
you lengthen your days and in order that it be well with you...". The Talmud
[Kidushin 39b] says that this means that the reward for honoring parents is in the world
to come. I have two kashyos [questions of seeming contradiction] on this.
1) We know that the world to come is eternal. The same gemora [Kidushin 39b] tells us
that reward for mitzvos is essentially in the eternal world, not this temporary physical
world. So, by definition, the reward for all mitzvos is eternal. When the Torah says that
the reward for honoring parents is eternal, it seems to be saying something basic that we
already know. What is the Torah telling us by saying the reward for honoring parents will
2) The reward for all 613 of the Torah's mitzvos is eternal life, so the Torah seems to
be adding nothing by saying that the reward for this particular mitzva is eternal life. If
a person does all other mitzvos in the Torah, even if he neglects the domain of honoring
parents, he will still be rewarded for his other mitzvos with eternal life [after being
punished for his sins]. If one receives eternal reward for fulfilling all of the Torah's
commandments, what is the Torah saying by specifically promising eternal reward for
I suggest that a midrash [Seder HaDoros 3:19] resolves our two kashyos beautifully and
pulls everything together smoothly.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Ailam was a holy sage. He received a message by ruach hakodesh
[Divine inspiration] that Nanas the butcher would be his partner in the bliss of eternity.
Rabbi Yehoshua was dismayed and sad. He said that he always works to fear Hashem, study
His Torah, do His mitzvos and he raised 80 disciples who also became great sages. How
could it be that a butcher who was ignorant in Torah and a plain working man be his
partner in Gan Aiden? He had to get to the bottom of this puzzling mystery and find out
who his future eternal partner is. He sent his disciples all over the land of Israel to
search for Nanas the butcher. He was finally found, a simple man in a small and
undistinguished town. He was told that the great sage Rabbi Yehoshua ben Ailam summoned
him. Nanas figured that he could be no one of genuine interest to such a great sage and
thought the disciples were only teasing him. He refused to go. Rabbi Yehoshua had to come
When he saw Rabbi Yehoshua traveled to see him, he fell in front of him and begged
forgiveness for forcing the sage to impose upon himself and come to him. Rabbi Yehoshua
said, "Tell me what you do and with what do you occupy yourself?"
Nanas replied that he is a butcher and that he works as little as possible because he
had two elderly and infirm parents who can neither stand up or manage on their own. Every
day he dressed them, washed them, fed them and took complete care of them.
Rabbi Yehoshua stood up for Nanas, kissed him on the head and said that Nanas was
fortunate to have such opportunity to honor his parents and that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Ailam
was fortunate to be the partner of Nanas in the eternal world.
The Torah's promise of eternal reward for honoring parents, at first, seems to refer to
"duration." This midrash about Nanas the butcher is telling us that there is
more to eternal life than its eternal duration. The eternal world is not so much a matter
of aichuss [quantity]. It is a matter of kamuss [quality]. One's eternal reward is defined
and characterized by much more than the number of mitzvos one does in life.
The Torah measures mitzvos different ways. Pirkei Avos [Chapter two] tells us that we
cannot know the reward for a mitzva. But, we do know different mitzvos carrying varying
degrees of weight. We have some indication of this by the level of reward or the severity
of punishment stated by the Torah for its various requirements and prohibitions. We also
know that the quality of one's attitude and intention contribute significantly to Heaven's
calculation of and regard for any action we do or refrain from doing. Pirkei Avos [Chapter
five] tells us that the reward corresponds to the pain or sacrifice that comes with
obeying Hashem. One Rishone [major early authority], Rabainu Bachya, says that one's
intention when doing a mitzva completely determines whether we have even fulfilled the
mitzva. The gemora [Kidushin 31a] says that attitude can determine fulfillment of honoring
parents: doing the mitzva in a nasty or begrudging way makes it a sin, while causing a
parent hardship to save him or her from serious danger achieves the mitzva superbly. The
Torah [Deuteronomy 28:47] tells us that one can receive the most brutal level of
punishments from G-d for doing the entire Torah but doing so without happiness, a good
attitude in the heart and appreciation for G-d's gifts. Many factors, often unknowable by
human beings, go into Heaven's determination of the quality of any mitzva we do.
Correspondingly, the rewards in eternity have varying qualitative factors also; for
example, one's location in Gan Aiden, one's partner in Gan Aiden, the degree of bliss,
one's depth of spiritual sensitivity and insight, measure of eternal regret or anguish
over the potentials one failed to achieve in earthly life, the extent to which one can
enjoy the ziv haSh'china [glow of the Divine Presence], etc. We cannot know the eternal
reward; but it can be impacted qualitatively, and even determined, by our doing of any
mitzva and HOW we do it.
When the Torah says that one will have long and good reward for honoring parents, it
seems to be saying that the quality of eternal reward for honoring parents is at the
highest level; if the fulfillment, intent and attitude are proper.
This answers our two kashyos. Yes, 1) reward for all mitzvos is eternal, and 2) this
applies for all of the 613 mitzvos; but the quality of GOOD and ETERNAL reward are
extraordinary for the one who satisfies the exacting and demanding requirements and goals
of the Torah's laws and ethics in the domain of honoring parents.
The selected compilations are based
on law codes (Rambam, Arba Turim, Shulchan Aruch, Kitzur and Aruch HaShulchan), Gemara
Kidushin 30b - 32a, Me'am Loez on Honoring Parents and cited miscellaneous sources.
OBLIGATIONS ON PARENTS
A father must train his children in all
mitzvos of Torah and rabbinic origin, according to the child's understanding level at each
age. Parents may not excessively frighten children because this can lead to physical or
emotional harm [masechta Smachos, chapter two]. Since every child has a different mind and
personality, each parent should train each child according each child's individual way so
that the child will retain the training, when he grows older, throughout his/her life
[Proverbs 22:6]. There must be balance between firm discipline and loving nurturance, with
the emphasis being on the latter [Sanhedrin 107b]. The mussar concept of "kibbutz
roshmim (accumulation of mental impressions)" can be actively utilized by furnishing
to the child recognition and praise for accomplishments, appreciation for good deeds,
development of self-esteem, supportiveness, encouragement and emotional security.
In order that the child not become wild,
brazen, troublesome, spoiled or unprincipled, physical punishment is necessary against
misbehavior or chutzpa [brazenness, impudence] and discipline is a part of loving one's
child [Proverbs 13:24]. Discipline should start with words, to the extent words are
effective. Discipline should escalate to hitting only when words fail to be effective. It
is preferable that hitting be with a light strap, the hit of which is instructive and not
sadistic nor damaging. During the three weeks from the fast of the 17th of Tamuz to the
fast of Tisha B'Av, we do not allow parents or teachers to hit children at all, even with
a light strap [Be'er Haitiv to Orech Chayim 551:18], since this is a time of potential
misfortune. One should never be angry, frightening or excited with children. One should
pretend to be angry just enough for the effect necessary in disciplining children, but
never actually be angry or emotional. Hitting must altogether stop when a child reaches
bar or bas mitzva, when the child becomes old enough to be punishable in Torah law if
(s)he hits the parent back. Hitting a child at such an age could cause the child to strike
or to curse the parent. The parent would violate the Torah commandment, "Do not place
a stumbling block [Leviticus 19:14]" by provoking the child into
"stumbling" through sin.
Do not threaten, make burdensome demands
nor behave abusively or indifferently towards children. Emotional neglect can be as
damaging as emotional abuse. Do not make heavy demands on the child; and do not be very
particular, strict or hard on the child to honor you. These are obstacles to the child's
fulfillment of his mitzva and provoke violation of honor to parents. A parent sins when
(s)he is the cause of his/her child's sin towards a parent.
Keep promises; reward and punish
immediately so the child is trained to associate reward with good behavior and punishment
with bad behavior. Never say the child is bad...say the behavior is bad; but do say that
the child is good when his/her behavior is good.
It is important for the mother to reinforce
the learning of Torah and the practice of chesed (active loving-kindness) in the child
Parents are to inspire, to be role models
for, and to promote an atmosphere of Torah, in the home - in spirit and in practice; and
should encourage and reward learning, loving and obeying Torah.
The greatest praise and legacy for a Jewish
parent is raising children who learn Torah and do good deeds, and thereby create Kiddush
HaShem (sanctification of G-d), and thereby generate praise for the meritorious and
successful upbringing that the parent gave to the child.
"Who is honored? The one who honors
others [Pirkei Avos chapter four]. For parents to obtain spontaneous honor, they should
(in accordance with the age and maturity of the child) show honor to their children enough
to train the child in what honor is and feels like. In all midos (character traits and
qualities), not only honor, a child "becomes" in accordance with what (s)he
sees, how (s)he is made to feel and how (s)he is treated.
Hashem said, "And Avraham will indeed
become a large and mighty nation and through him all blessing to the nations of the earth
will come. I love him because he will command his children and his household after him to
observe the ways of Hashem, that they practice generosity and justice, in order that
Hashem bring to Avraham all that He spoke of [Genesis 18:18-19, based on Rashi and Rav
Shimshon Rafael Hirsch].
OBLIGATIONS ON CHILDREN
Honoring parents is a mitzva which
"one eats the fruits of in this world and the principal endures in the eternal
world" (gemora Shabos 127a).
The Torah wants more than technical or
mechanical fulfillment of Hashem's law; which is, of course, "bottom line"
It is mandatory to be exceedingly careful
with honor and fear of one's mother and father. All the technical acts of honor or fear
are not accomplished unless done with a pleasant attitude and facial expression.
If one must do something harsh for the
parent's good, or to save him from something worse, the child must speak comfortingly and
appeasingly "to the heart" of the parent and show how the intention is for the
Halacha generally considers equal 1. the
mitzva to honor and the mitzva to fear, 2. the obligations towards father and mother, 3.
the obligations towards parents and Hashem and 4. the obligations towards parents upon
sons and non-married daughters.
Honor is fulfilled by providing food and
drink, by clothing the parent, escorting the parent to and from places, never hitting nor
drawing blood in any way (except a doctor saving a parent's life when there is no one else
to do so), obeying the parent (when there is no Torah violation involved) and maintaining
a cheerful and good-natured disposition with the parent.
If the parent is asleep, honor is achieved
by not waking the parent except for something that the parent would want more than the
sleep, or for an obligation upon the parent such as prayer at its proper time or charity
to the hungry.
Honor is accomplished by promoting and
preserving peace between one's father and mother, not referring to the parent by name
(except when praying on behalf of the parent) and by bringing blessing on the parent
during and after the parent's lifetime. One can refer to other people who have the same
name as their parent if the name is common. People will not automatically understand the
child as referring to his parent. If a parent has an uncommon name, the child may not even
refer to others by that name. Halacha presumes that people might automatically understand
the child to be referring to his own parent by name, which is considered dishonor of the
One of the greatest achievements in
honoring parents is for the child to grow up to behave so admirably and nobly that people
spontaneously praise the parent who raised such a child.
The mitzvah to fear is fulfilled by not
standing or sitting in the parent's appointed place, neither contradicting nor agreeing
with the parent (because agreeing appears to say that the parent's word is not validated
before being supported by the child), neither expressing anger towards nor ever cursing a
parent and by not causing pain or shame for any reason. If a parent abuses, hurts or
embarrasses the child, the child must remain silent. If the parent's treatment is truly
unbearable or dangerous, the child can leave the room (or pick up and move away to another
city, or only speak to the parent on the telephone or in large-crowd gatherings; so as to
neutralize the threat, while not violating any halacha governing conduct towards parents).
When the fulfillment of obligations to the
parent entails financial expense, the obligation is discharged by spending the parent's
money. If parents do not have money and the child does, the child spends according to what
the child can afford. If the child can afford to, (s)he should provide what the parent is
used to. If the child cannot afford more, at the very least, (s)he should provide for the
parent's basic necessities. If the child cannot afford more, the child should at least
spend for parents the amount that the child is obligated to distribute to charity (maaser
If a child sees his parent sinning, he does
not tell the parent in statement form. If the parent is observant and knowledgeable, the
child uses a gentle questioning approach: "Isn't the halacha A, the commandment B,
the prohibition C?"
If the child is a ba'al tshuva (one who
returned to Torah observance) whose parent[s] is [are] not observant, the child will do
all that is humanly possible to keep peace with the parents, to not offend, to not
alienate, to not be harsh or critical about Torah observance or lack of Torah observance.
However, the child must also fully protect his/her Torah observance without compromise.
The more good influence that the child can have on the parent's spirituality, the better.
Even if the child cannot influence the parent to come closer to Torah, the child can
create scenarios where the parent observes some laws. For example, the child can ask the
parent to take him/her to a kosher restaurant, so the parent will eat a kosher meal. The
child can "motzie" [include] the parent in birkas hamazone (blessings after
eating), signalling to the parent with a hand when to say "amen." The child
might make shabos in the house, if this can be done so the child can keep the laws of
shabos satisfactorily. The parent can keep some shabos laws and hear some words of Torah.
If a parent damages or loses property of
the child, the child may obtain payment through bais din (Torah court). Every Jew is
liable for damage to any other Jew, including to one's own child.
Honoring parents is superseded by 1.
adhering to the Torah (e.g. if a parent tells a child to sin or tries to set up any
situation that brings a violation), 2. the child's right to learn Torah in the place that
most benefits the child's learning, even if a parent is displeased, 3. the child's right
to marry who the child chooses (including the right to reject marrying a person who the
parent wants the child to marry), 4. the wife's obligation to her husband and to peace in
her marriage and to caring for her children, 5. the well-being of the parent (such as an
order by the parent that can bring harm to the parent e.g. the parent demands violation of
his doctor's orders), 6. already being involved in certain mitzvos which need to be done
at that time by the child him/herself (e.g. the funeral or burial of one who passed away
with no known or available family to tend to the dead), 7. obligation to one's children or
to marital peace and 8. the child living in the land of Israel (when a parent wants the
child to live outside of Israel). For all practical questions, consult a knowledgeable and
G-d-fearing rabbi for case-by-case Torah instruction.
Honoring parents includes honoring older
siblings (even if only a sibling from one parent), grandparents, great-grandparents, a
step-parent while married to a natural parent (it is meritorious to continue to honor the
step-parent after the death of a natural parent) and for parents-in-law, when honoring
parents-in-law is consistent with peace in the marriage.
A child should give as much honor as
circumstances reasonably permit for a parent who is non-observant, immoral, destructive,
violent, insane or the gentile parent of a convert. If the parent is difficult, the child
may limit or discontinue contact with or exposure to the parent so as to protect his
physical, emotional, mental or spiritual well-being. If the parent is dangerous or
unbearable (abusive, deranged, overly demanding or critical, etc.) the child should
appoint an agent to care for the needs of the parent and, then, move far enough away (e.g.
out of town or to another country) so as to neither come to sin against the parent nor
suffer damage from the parent (including mental, emotional, physical, spiritual or damage
to property). It is a mitzva to protect every Jew - including oneself - from danger,
illness or harm.
When children honor parents fittingly,
Hashem considers it as if He is dwelling among them and they are honoring Him.