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Parsha Mitzvot: Yitro: Honoring Parents Laws

My father signs his letters to me with his actual name, and not Dad. May I respond by writing a letter addressed to him by his proper name? M.D. The Halachic issue is whether writing is considered the same as speaking. Both the Rambam and the Tur (YD 240 & 242) rule that one may not address a parent by his or her proper name. The Emek Sh’eilah (Rav Mordechai Twerski, #66) determines that Halacha considers writing as speech, and therefore rules that you may not write to your father, using his proper name.

I learned that part of a child’s obligation to her parents is to never behave in such a way that her behavior will reflect poorly on them. I am not as religious as my parents, and although I observe the commandments, I am not as careful as are they in keeping all the stringencies. My mother told me that she is often embarrassed by people who mention how horrible it must be for her to have such a child. Am I Halachically responsible for their embarrassment? Am I breaking my biblical obligation of honor by not observing stringencies? B.Y.

First of all, there is a difference between observant and religious. I don’t know whether you mean that you are not as observant or not as religious as your parents. I mention this because your question indicates a high level of awareness and commitment. I wish more people, including me, were so aware of the Mitzvah of Kibbud.

I once saw a Responsum in the Salmat Chaim (Volume II #40) that ruled that Kibbud Av v’Eim obligate a person to be concerned with how their actions reflect on their parents. I was concerned because, although I asked for my father’s permission to become the rabbi of a modern orthodox synagogue, I knew that many people were convinced that my position was an embarrassment to my father. (I actually had a similar issue with my grandfather zt”l when I became the rabbi of a synagogue with a Mechitza of minimum height. I called my grandfather after someone told me that I was an embarrassment to my grandfather, and asked him whether I had to be concerned. His response, less than two years before his death, was, at great physical cost, to fly to my new hometown and daven in my shul!)

My father zt”l told me that although one must be concerned with how his behavior reflects on his parents, he does not have to worry about small minded people. “Awareness,” he said, “is just that; awareness. Simply consider whether your actions will be considered by reasonable people as a poor reflection on your parents.”

I would certainly apply my father’s words to your situation: You have fulfilled your obligation of Kibbud by simply asking. You do not need to worry.

My parents are products of the Sixties and are very relaxed about parenthood. They want me to refer to them by their proper names. My rabbi told me that parents can forego their honor: “Av shemachal al kivodo, kivodo machul,” – A parent who forgives his honor; his honor is forgiven.” However, I heard you instruct someone that he should not refer to his father-in-law by his first name although the man asked his son-in-law to do so. I am interested in knowing whether you disagree with my rabbi, and if yes, why? Anonymous

I may only answer you because you are not asking for a ruling after having asked your rabbi, and are simply asking for information.

Your rabbi is correct. A parent’s forgiveness of his honor is sufficient. My father zt”l often explained that each generation demands increased forgiveness of Kibbud than the previous generation. He insisted that I do not allow my children to speak to me in third person.

The Sefer Chasidim (#573) insists that although the father forgives, God does not. Thus, Jacob was punished for the 22 years he spent away from Isaac even though Isaac had instructed Jacob to leave, i.e. Isaac “forgave” his Kavod.

The Chida, in his commentary to Sefer Chasidim, explains that every interaction with a parent has two levels of obligation; the parent and God. Jacob was released of his obligation to Isaac, but not of his obligation to God, which demanded that he honor his father.

We, all too often and easily forget that our obligation to our parents is primarily an obligation to God.

I have heard in the name of the Ari HaKodesh that before a person can rise in Gan Eden, he will be evaluated for his behavior toward his parents even from the time he was six years old!

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