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Parsha Mitzvot: Yitro: Changed By Honoring Parents

I once met a famous rabbi who is known for his clarity and sensitivity. I had heard of him, read many of his writings, and had looked forward to developing a relationship with him as a teacher. I first wanted to know whether he met my father zt”l’s Three Steps For Choosing a Rebbi:

  1. Do I respect him as a person?
  2. Do I trust his judgment?
  3. Do I feel that, “He is as an angel,” meaning, do I feel that he is a proper messenger of God’s Wisdom?

I asked him the following Halachic question: “A young man, abandoned by his father when he was four-years-old, became observant in his teens. He is quite resentful and often speaks negatively of his father. He is concerned that his negative words are considered Lishon Harah, negative speech. What shall I tell him?”

I had already answered the young man’s question, but I wanted to get a sense of how this great rabbi responded to such queries. “If the father is not an ‘Oseh ma’aseh amcha,” one who acts as a Hew should, there is no prohibition of Lishon Harah.”

I realized that I could not use this rabbi as a resource: His answer was Halachically accurate. It is a common response to questions about Lishon Harah and Kibud Av V’eim, honoring parents. I often hear of rabbis ruling that someone is not obligated in Kibud Av for one reason or another. It is simple to rule based on the black and white Halacha. But it is not what I consider a proper response. In fact, I consider such Halachic rulings tragic!

There are two parts to every Mitzvah: The Mitzvah and the Concept. The basic laws, and the spiritual development that is only possible through the observance of the Mitzvah. While it may be permissible to speak Lishon Harah of someone for one reason or another, it is still Lishon Harah, The Vocabulary of Evil. Negative speech has a powerful effect on us even if permissible. The Talmud teaches that even negative speech about trees and stones has a detrimental effect.

Honoring parents has a positive effect even if the letter of the law does not obligate respect in a specific relationship or situation. A person is changed by his or her care in observing the laws of Kibud, respecting parents. The law does not require me to obey a parent who instructs me to violate a Torah law, but that does not mean that I can reject their instructions with ridicule, without honor in the way I inform the parent that I cannot obey.

The Sages describe Esau as meticulous in his observance of Honoring Parents. (See “All Dressed Up and No One To Owe”) Do we find Esau changed by his concern for this Mitzvah/Concept?

To Be Continued…

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