Torah Portion: Kedoshim
“איש אמו ואביו תיראו” (ויקרא יט ג)
It is a positive commandment to revere one’s father and mother; that is, to behave towards one’s father and mother in the same manner one would behave towards someone he reveres, as it is written, Every man: Your mother and father shall you revere (Vayikra 19:3). Our Sages explain: “What is considered ‘reverence’? Not sitting in the parent’s place, not speaking in his stead and not contradicting his words.”
Among the roots of the mitzvah is the idea that it is fitting for a man to acknowledge and treat with loving-kindness the person who treated him with goodness, and he should not be a knave, an ingrate who acts like a stranger [to him] — for this is an evil trait, utterly contemptible before God and Man. [The mitzvah] also helps the person internalize that it his father and mother who are the cause of his being in the world, and therefore it is truly proper for him to give them every honor and every benefit that he can, since they brought him into the world. Plus, they labored through many troubles over him in his early years.
Once this trait is becomes firmly part of one’s character, the person rises from this to recognize the goodness of God, blessed is He, who is the primary Cause of his existence and the existence of all his forebears, back to Adam, the first man. And [he will realize] that it was He Who brought him forth into the world, provided for his needs all his days [on earth], arranged his body perfectly with all his limbs, and gave him a cognitive and intelligent spirit — and if not for this spirit with which God endowed him, he would be no different than an animal without understanding. Then let him reckon in his mind how very, very right it is for him to take care about serving and worshipping Him, be He blessed.
The laws of the mitzvah include what our Sages said: “What is the extent of reverence for one’s father and mother? Even if they struck him and spat in his face, he should not shame them in return.” Nevertheless, the Sages also instructed that a father may not strike his older child because doing do so is an aspect of you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind (ibid. v. 14), for this may cause his son to disgrace him.
Regarding the severity of this commandment, our Sages said that even if the parents became unbalanced, the son should attempt to treat them with honor to their understanding. But if they became deranged to the point that the son cannot take care of them, he may leave them and ask others to tend to them properly, if such people are available. Our Sages, however, taught that if a father or mother instructed their child to transgress any aspect of Torah—even a mitzvah of Rabbinic status—he should not listen to them.
This mitzvah applies in all places and at all times, to both men and women. One who transgressed this and did not treat them with reverence, violated this positive precept—unless the person acted this way with the consent of the parent, for a parent who waives his honor, the honor is waived.