Parsha Mitzvot: Yitro: Honoring Parents: The Most Powerful Person In The World
As with most young children, the most powerful person in the world in my five-year-old eyes, was my father zt”l. He could answer any question. I used to watch him help my sisters with their homework in, of course, Torah, but also physics and chemistry. I sat and listened as a prominent physicist came to discuss his research with my father. He was the final authority on all issues. I observed the way his students interacted with him, and emulated them. I saw him as a giant. I was convinced that he was the strongest man in the world. I could not imagine anyone more important.
That is, until his mother a”h came to Toronto to visit. I was shocked to see him serve her with even more respect than I had for him. He listened to all she had to say with the same reverence that all had for him. I mentioned my shock to one of sisters (#3) and she described my grandmother’s astounding accomplishments. It was a story that I heard countless times from my father and Uncle Noach zt”l over fifty years. But, her accomplishments were not the reason my father and uncle had such reverence for their mother, or father. There was a certain quality in the way they spoke of their parents that transcended admiration for greatness. It was clear that the reverence changed the way the brothers described their parents.
It was difficult for a young boy to understand, so I asked my father: He looked at me in total surprise and said, “She’s my mother. That’s why.”
His response made me slightly uncomfortable; I, shamefully, admitted that I did not have the same reverence for my mother. I saw her as an expanded version of an older sister; bossy! “Kibud Av V’eim, honoring parents, should never be ‘because,’ it should just be,” was his response. He then added, “Whatever I am is because of my parents, and even more so, because I revere them.”
I still struggle to honor my mother as ‘it should just be.’ I continue to wrestle with one of the Ten Statements. I am not alone. The great Talmudic Sages saw their Kibud Eim as lacking in comparison with the wicked Esau! No wonder this Mitzvah is considered by many to be the most difficult of the 613.