Parsha Mitzvot: Acharei Mot: Mitzvah 189 – Concept 158
“The nakedness of your father and the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness (Vayikra 18:7) A man may not have homosexual relations with his father (Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah – The Laws of Forbidden Relationships).
In 1968 I went to the mikvah with my father zt”l and Uncle Noach zt”l. As soon as we entered the building, people stood aside to allow my father to enter the actual mitzvah first, and alone. They expected my uncle to enter with my father, but he refused. “I cannot be in the mikvah at the same time as my brother because he is my Rebbi.” He then turned to me and asked me, “how many mitzvot are you fulfilling by not entering the mikvah at the same time as your father?”
Well, I thought, I had already heard the answer from him, “I am honoring my rebbi.”
“Is that all?” He asked.
“I am also honoring my father,” I said.
“Is that all?” He asked. “I guess I am also fulfilling the mitzvah of fearing my father,” I said.
“Is that all?” He asked. I was stumped.
“I thought you knew the 613 Commandments,” he said, what is a mitzvah number 158?” “You cannot uncover your father’s nakedness,” I said. “So,” he said, “you are fulfilling another mitzvah as well.”
“If I already have a mitzvah to honor him, which prevents me from seeing him naked, and another mitzvah of fearing him, which also prevents me from seeing him naked, why do I need this extra mitzvah?”
“What are all the other mitzvot about in this section of the Rambam?” “They are all about marriage,” I said. “But why would I need a commandment to not marry my father (remember I was only a little boy)?”
“Who is the one person in the world who sees your father as a person, not just a great Rabbi and teacher, but as the person he is?”
I knew the answer to that question; “you!”
“No,” he said, “it isn’t me. First of all, he is my older brother. Second of all, he is my rebbi. I was the closest person in the world to him when he was younger, but now the way he is, there is another person who knows him that way. Better than even I knew him and know him. Do you know who that is?”
“That’s what marriage is,” he said, “it is seeing the person who is also all the other things that other people see, but still the person he is. Your mother knows your father in a way no one else can.”
I thought about what my uncle said, and I said, “I want to know him that way!”
He chuckled in the way that only Uncle Noach could chuckle, “you are not allowed to know him that way. In fact, you couldn’t know him that way because he is your father and your teacher.”
“The Torah is telling you that you cannot even try to know your father that way, just as a regular person. It is more than honoring him, and it is more than fearing him; it is protecting the whole family, so that children will never try to relate to a father as just a person.”
My father came out of the Mikvah, and Uncle Noach went in alone. My father turned to me and said, “Do you know how many Mitzvot you kept by not coming into the Mikvah with me?”