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The Parameters of Honoring Ones Parents

Tishrei‏‎, 5772

October, 2011

Dear friend,

Enclosed please find Bulletin No. 11 of our current series of publications.

We are very pleased to inform you of our successful 14th Annual International Jerusalem Yarchei Kallah. The topics under consideration were: child protection, spiritual pikuach nefesh and returning from a pikuach nefesh event on Shabbat.We studied the topics directly from sourcetexts and heard in-depth shiurim from reknown Israeli Halachic Authorities and Medical Professionals.

Rav Weiner has recently returned from a trip to Panama where he delivered lectures in the Beit El Synagogue and the Panama Yeshiva.

Rav Weiner and JCR staff wish you and your family a healthy and happy New Year.

כתיבה וחתימה טובה

Bulletin 11

The Parameters of Honoring Ones Parents

In the previous bulletin we discussed the obligation of a young adult who desired to donate a lobe of his lung in order to save the life of a friend. His parents however requested that he refrain because of their fear connected with the risk involved and the possible damage to his quality of life.  Is this young man obligated to bow to his parents will or not? The conclusion of that bulletin was that since one is not obligated to donate an organ to save a life (although doing so is the fulfillment of two of the greatest Torah values, viz., saving a life and performing chesed.), he must submit to his parents’ request.

Since that bulletin, this author has received numerous queries concerning the parameters a propos the obligation of honoring ones parents. Under what circumstances is it ones duty to acquiesce and when not?

Three verses in the Torah touch directly on the bilateral relationship of children to their parents. In the Ten Commandments (Shmot 20:12, Devorim 5:16) it states directly “Honor your father and mother.” In Vayikra (19:3) “A person his mother and father you must fear, you must keep My Shabbat. I am Hashem your G-d.”  In Devorim (27:16) the verse relates to the blessings and curses given on Mt. Grizim after the Jewish people entered the land of Israel. “Cursed is the one that embarrasses his father and mother and the entire nation should answer amen.”

The Rambam (Laws of Mamrim, 5:15) states “…not only is the Torah sensitive regarding smiting ones parents (Shmot 21:15) or cursing them (Vayikra 20:9), but also in embarrassing them, for any child who embarrases them with words (even without action) or even by hinting is cursed by the Almighty. As it is written ‘Cursed is one who embarrassess his father or mother’.” The verse in Mishlei (30:17) warns that “The eye that will mock his father or disgrace the wrinkles of his mother … and beit din should punish this person as it sees fit.”

Honoring Ones Parents When This Clashes with Performing Other Mitzvot

If honoring ones parents clashes with the fulfillment of another mitzvah, the Gemmora in Baba Metzia (32a) teaches “If a father orders his son not to return a lost item or if a kohen tells his son to enter a cemetery, the son is not obligated to hearken to him.” The biblical verse (Vayikra 19:3) says “Fear your father…. and observe the Shabbat.” This reveals that the commandments of the Torah (whether of Torah or Rabbinical level[1]) have priority over parental authority as the Gemmora states “You and your father are obligated to honor Me.”

The RIAZ appearing in the Shiltei Giborim (Pg. 26 on the RIF) says “If the father intends that his son disgrace a mitzvah (by not fulfilling it), then the son is obliged not to listen for a person is commanded to honor his parents only in order to serve Hashem. (This is the reason that the 5th Commandment of honoring parents is in the first section of the luchot those containing the obligations between man and G-d.)  If a child understands that his father’s intention is to go against Hashem’s will, he should respectfully reprimand him in order to convince him to change his mind. If the parent is not convinced, then the child should certainly not heed his words. If the father enjoins him to become impure via a corpse in a case where the father’s food is in the cemetery, even though the father’s intention is to honor hinself (and not to belittle the mitzvah), he should refuse the father as it is written   ‘And observe my Shabbat, I am Hashem, all of you are obligated to honor Me’.”

Honoring Ones Father When the Father Gains no Direct Benefit

from the Fulfillment of his Request

One may deduce from the RIAZ that a father’s request whose purpose is not to disparage a mitzvah and which does not bring direct benefit to him, the son would be either required to hearken to his father. Or possibly the son would not be obligated, but if he does fulfill his father’s wishes, then he would be fulfilling the mitzvah of Kibud Av.

Tosefot (Kidushin 32a) states that even though there is an opinion in the Gemorra that the son is obligated to spend his own monies in order to meet his father’s needs (even if the father is not lacking funds). This applies however only if the son’s monies are the source of fulfilling the mitzvah of Kibbud Av and are also causing benefit to the father. But if he is occupied, e.g., in searching for his lost object and his father simultaneously requests that he meet a personal need, the son is not obligated to forfeit his own capital to honor his father. Since the lost object  is not related to fulfilling the mitzvah of Kibud Av,  (the father will not benefit from his son’s not discovering the misplaced money), the son may surely continue searching and is not obligated to become involved in meeting his father’s needs.

The Terumat Hadeshen (40) presents a case in which a student wishes to travel to another country to study Torah from a specific Rav, and he is confident that he will find success there. His father however emphatically protests and says to his son that if he departs he will cause his father great suffering as he will be constantly worried that G-d forbid he will be falsely arrested or accused of a committing a crime which is a frequent occurrence in that country. In this case is the student son obligated to listen to his father’s objections?

The Terumat Hadeshen opines that it would seem that the son could indeed travel to the far away country. This is based upon the Gemorra (Eruvin 47a) that states that one may leave Eretz Yisroel in order to marry or study Torah. R’ Yossi teaches that even if one can study Torah in Israel he may leave for not every teacher is the compatible to every student. Consider the case (Kiddushin 31b) in which R’ Yochanan expresses doubt concerning the permissibility of R’ Assi leaving Eretz Yisroel to meet his father. Hence we can understand that Talmud Torah is a greater mitzvah than Kibbud Av. (The study of Torah permits one to leave  Israel, while honoring ones father is a safek.) This is also evident from the fact that  Yaakov was not punished for neglecting his parents’ needs during the fourteen year period when he studied in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever.

There is no reason, continues the Terumat Hadeshen, to differentiate between circumstances of a child’s noncompliance which will cause his parents anguish and a child’s general noncompliance to his parents’ wishes. Both cases relate to the positive commandments of honoring and fearing ones parents. (Causing them pain clashes with fearing them.)  The Gemorra in Yevamot (6a) states that where the father’s request in itself entails a transgression; it behooves the child not to obey. It seems that if the request is of either Torah or Rabbinical level, the child must refuse.

To summarize, the Terumat Hadeshen offers two reasons as to why the student is not obligated to listen to his father. Firstly because Talmud Torah is greater than honoring ones parents. Secondly, there is a transgression involved if the student does not travel to study Torah where he expects to succeed. See Yoreh Deah (240:25) who rules this Terumat Hadeshen as representing the Halacha. See also the Pitchei Teshuva (22) who rules that even if only a possibility exists that the student will succeed in his studies in the far country, this Halacha yet applies.

Relating to another aspect of Kibud Av, the Bet Lechem Yehuda (Y.D. 240:15) quotes the Sefer Chasidim that even though one need not listen to his parents where listening to them clashes with the performance of a mitzvah, however “One who knows that his parents are anguished by his fasting, should only fast those fasts to which he is obligated”. Going beyond the letter of the law or accepting upon himself a certain level of Chasidus, even though this is commendable, since no direct commandments are involved, Kibud Av supercedes his desires.

Chavot Yair (214, see also Pitchei Teshuva, 240) cites a case of a mother who on her death bed requested that her son not rent  his home to others. At that time, the son had previously rented the home to an elderly Talmid Chacham, Levi, who was known to be an exceedingly righteous man. Must the son listen to his mother and put Levy out?

In his responsa, the Chavot Yair first argues that he is not obligated to carry out his mother’s wishes: Levy studies Torah night and day and avails himself of the seforim collection in the house. Talmud Torah is a greater mitzvah than is Kibud Av and thus whenever a transgression is involved, one is not obliged to hearken to his parents. There is no greater Kavod Hashem than learning Torah.  The Chavot Yair adds that Levy is also willing to learn an entire year in the memory of the deceased mother and it can be safely assumed that in Gan Eden the mother would surely regret her original request. For a great merit accrues to her and on the contrary it would seemingly be a sin to expel Levy from the home as a result of her request.

The Chavot Yair continues that albiet the above reasoning, it is insufficient grounds for the son to disregard his mother’s wishes. It must be understood that a clash between a mitzvah and the performance of Kibud Av is when there is an active obligation to perform a mitzvah and a transgression by compliance of meeting the parent’s needs[2]. Similarly, when a father insists that his son not travel to learn Torah in another country or that he not marry a girl who the son finds pleasing. These two examples represent positive action commandments. Not so regarding renting the apartment to Levy. Although it is certainly praiseworthy, nevertheless no positive commandment or obligation rests upon the son. Hence the Chavot Yair concludes that even if Levy had no other readily available lodging, we would not permit the son to re-rent it to him, even moreso that Levy has alternative residence for renting.

It can be deduced from the Chavot Yair that even though no direct benefit ensues for the dead mother by the son’s bowing to her request and not renting the house, he is nonetheless obligated to comply. The Chavot Yair understands the above cited Tosafot Kiddushin (32a) that only if the son will lose money and the father  has no direct benefit from his son’s loss of money , is the son not obligated to comply. Thus in the case of the mother’s dying request that her son not rent his home, since no loss has arisen (the son not being interested in the rental), the son would be obligated to fulfill his obligation of Kibud Av (see the Aruch Hashulchan’s comments to the Chavot Yair and Pitchei Teshuva  Y.D. 240).

To be continued…

[1] See ShulchanOrech, Yoreh Deah 240:15

[2] For example when a father demands that his son, a Cohen, enter a cemetary to fetch him food or demands that he not fulfill the mitzvah of returning  a lost object so that the son can instead meet a specific need of his father’s.

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