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Respecting elderly
Rabbi Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari Enkin

Honoring one’s parents is not always easy and often requires great effort and sacrifice. In the long-run, however, it could give you important life benefits.

This week’s Torah portion is Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19), and in it we read about the unique mitzvah of Shilu’ach Haken – sending away the mother bird when taking the chicks or the eggs.

The mitzvah (commandment) to send away the mother bird is as follows: One who sees a bird sitting on its nest may not to take the chicks or the eggs in the presence of the mother. It is taught that doing so would cause great pain to the mother. Rather, one is required to first send away the mother. The reward for performing this mitzvah is “so that it will be good with you and your days will be lengthened.” A long and good life!

There is only one other mitzvah in the entire Torah in which the promise of a “good and long life” is stated for its performance, and that is the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. There is one difference, however, in the wording used to describe the reward for these two commandments. Regarding the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird, the Torah first writes, “It will be good for you” and afterwards it says “you will have long life.” On the other hand,  regarding the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents, the order is reversed. There it first says that “you will have long life,” followed by the phrase “in order that it will be good for you.”

Why the difference in order?

One interpretation is that regarding the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird, the reward of “it will be good for you” will come promptly. This is because the reward of a “long life” cannot be readily seen or measured. For example, one who performs this mitzvah at 30 years old may only come to realize the reward of long life 50-plus years later! As such, the reward of “it will be good for you” is something that could potentially be realized much sooner, and therefore it is written first.

Regarding the order of the reward for honoring one’s parents, it is noted that doing so is a mitzvah that is very hard to fulfill  properly. It is not always easy to get along well with one’s parents. Honoring one’s parents could be very challenging for someone who has elderly parents who require extensive care and attention. As such, the reality is that caring for such parents might not be all that “good for you.” Therefore, the reward of a long life is stated first, as if to say, “One day you, too, may be old and elderly, requiring extensive care. Who will take care of you? When your children see how you take care of your parents, they are likely to treat you in the same manner when you are old.”

Indeed, when children see their parents taking care of their parents with love, kindness and devotion, they are likely to do the same when the time comes for them. So what the Torah is saying is: “Honor your parents in order that when you reach a ripe, old age (“long life”), it will be “good for you” due the example you have set for your children!”

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

To read more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below:

https://unitedwithisrael.org/raising-children-its-not-easy/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/a-formula-for-long-life/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/hwiping-out-amalek/