Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Kibud Av ve-Eim: A Core Foundation of Torah Life

The experience of maamad Har Sinai and the transmission of the Aseret ha-Dibrot constitute a pivotal moment in world and Jewish history and is the centerpiece of Parshat Yitro. The gemara (Berachot 5a), commenting on the pasuk in Mishpatim (24:12) - "vi-etenah lecha et luchot ha-even ve-haTorah ve-hamitzvah asher katavti ledorotam"- establishes the aseret hadiberot (luchot ha-even, the first on the list) as a distinct genre of Torah, alongside mikra, mishneh, Talmud and Nach, notwithstanding the fact that it is also part of mikra! The fact that this special section is also sometimes read be-taam elyon (as dibrot rather than pesukim, see also Magen Avraham's comments in the beginning of Hilchot Shavuot), and that according to Rav Saadia Gaon and Ramban it encapsulates all taryag mitzvot reinforces this conclusion. Hence, the content and order of the dibrot demands scrutiny even beyond the regular microscopic reading of mikra.

While the list begins with self-evident, core theological principles and spiritual imperatives- belief in Hashem's existence and sovereignty, an emphatic rejection of idolatry, the demand that one relate respectfully to Sheim Hashem (ki lo yenakeh Hashem eit asher yisa et shemo la-shav) and Shabbat observance (see Chulin 5a- mumar lechalel et ha-Shabbat mumar le-kol ha-Torah kulah, and Rashi's comment ad loc, and Rambam's stirring conclusion of Hilchot Shabbat), the inclusion of kibud horim (reverence for parents), is less obvious. While proper execution promises long life, violation does not trigger a severe punishment. Moreover, kabed et avicha is followed by another series of crucial and consequential violations - lo tirzach (shefichat damim-murder), lo tinaf (marital betrayal-gilui arayot) etc. that seemingly eclipse the importance of kabed et avicha.

Ramban, following the midrash, suggests that kabed et avicha plays a transitional role in the dibrot, a bridge between bein adam la-makom and bein adam lechaveiro. He notes that this transition to a human focus begins with parents because on a human plane they parallel Hashem's role as a creator- "ki Hashem avinu ha-rishon' ve-hamolid avinu ha-acharon." Implicit in the Ramban's sustained analysis of this transition, it becomes evident that beyond the parallel, kibud av also overlaps into the first group, and integrates both bein adam lechaveiro and bein adam la-makom. He posits that the reference employed in the Devarim version of aseret ha-dibrot-"kasher tzivcha Hashem Elokecha"- actually refers to the obligation to revere and exhibit respect to Hashem ("kaasher tziviticha be-kevodi kein anochi metzavecha be-kevod hamishtatef imi be-yitziratecha"), even suggesting that there is no need to explicate the details or methodology this reverence entails inasmuch as the components can be applied from the Divine model! He concludes his assessment by invoking the gemara's (Kiddushin 30b) formulation that "hukash kevodo lekevod ha-Makom". While the overriding halachic importance of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude) explains much of this parallel and overlap [I hope to expand upon the multiple implications of this ubiquitous halachic-hashkafic concept elsewhere], the equation to Divine respect strains theological and religious propriety, and certainly consists of a significant expansion that requires further justification and clarification. A better understanding of the scope and nature of the kibud av imperative will also likely further explain its strategic placement in the asseret ha-dibrot among the cardinal doctrines of Jewish life.

Two interrelated dimensions of kibud av are relevant to the issues we have identified [each of which demands extensive analysis that I hope to pursue, iy"h, in another context].

Kibud av ve-eim appropriately parallels and models kevod Kono precisely because in the formative stages of human development, parental authority, influence, and admiration is the most effective paradigm and thus, also the proper halachic vehicle for cultivating the capacity for belief, faith, idealism, and a sense of confident dependence and reliance upon a more powerful being. These elemental impulses are indispensable for basic cognitive, psychological and spiritual human development. It is the chinuch obligation of parents to pave the way for a transference of kibud, moreh and the other features associated with the aforementioned values to the omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent Creator. Thus, Kibud av ve-eim, beyond hakarat ha-tov, is a critical mechanism to facilitate halachic commitment that stems from emunah peshutah. The fact that Rambam codifies these laws in Hilchot Mamrim underscores that parental authority is a paradigm of rabbinic and even Divine authority, certainly not a competing or detracting force. This perspective explains why kibud av ve-eim overlaps both bein adam lechavero and bein adam la-Makom, and serves as the point of transition in the luchot between these two motifs.

Moreover, Rav Chasdei Crescas links (Or Hashem) kibud av ve-eim's halachic prominence to the fact that parental authority, teaching, conduct, and orientation are the primary basis for mesorah, an indispensable factor in halachic life. "Sheal avicha ve-yagedcha' zekeinecha ve-yomru lach" begins with what every child imbibes through osmosis in their parental home, and continues with more formal parental guidance, instruction and inspiration. Halachic values and perspective that transcend but stem from halachic behavior is firmly rooted in one's family core.

The striking and severe laws of the incorrigible rebellious child, the ben sorer u-moreh (who is nidon al sheim sofo), reflect the importance of the reverential parental bond in Jewish life. Although the circumstances are either exceedingly rare or, according to one Talmudic position, entirely hypothetical and abstract (lo hayah velo nivra…derosh ve-kabel sechar), these laws are extensively codified and the violation is singled out in the Torah as requiring a formal national hachrazah (Sanhedrin 89a). This is undoubtedly because of the absolute incompatibility of this egregious conduct with any semblance of avodat Hashem- bein adam la-makom or bein adam le-chavero.

According to Chazal (see Mechilta, Rashi and Maharal in Gur Aryeh on Shemot 15:25, Sanhedrin 56b), kibud av ve-eim was already included with the select imperatives of Shabbat, dinim, and parah adumah at Marah (Shemot 15:25) as an educational (see Rashi and Ramban, Shemot ad loc) prequel to maamad har Sinai. Ramban (Devarim 5;16) notes that while Rashi reflects this view in Devarim, he surprisingly omits kibud av when he enumerates the Marah additions in Shemot. Maharal posits that kibud av may have been included in this elite grouping but not explicated (by remez) in the pesukim. Perhaps, Rashi's view was that kibud av precisely played a coordinating rather than an intrinsic role in this prequel. Kibud av ve-eim contributed a crucial reinforcement of the fundamental halachic concepts of belief, authority, and mesorah that required immediate national attention and focus. For the same reason, kibud av ve-eim, a halachic linchpin that promotes long quantitative and meaningful qualitative spiritual existence (see also Ramban Yitro ad loc on "leman yaarichun" ) bridges and integrates the two components of avodat Hashem in the aseret ha-dibrot.

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