Despite all logic, the only true reason we must honor our parents is because God commanded us to do so and not merely because it makes sense.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11). As an aside, it is worth mentioning that always attached to the Torah portion of Va’etchanan is the prophetic reading (known as a Haftorah) of Isaiah 40:1-26 that speaks of comforting the Jewish people for their suffering. This is in response to the commemoration and anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem which we observed earlier this week.

One of the highlights of Va’etchanan is the second “edition” of the Ten Commandments. Please forgive me, but I want to address one the “Top Ten” that all of us love to try and ignore (OK, accidentally forget): “Honor your father and mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long.”

Believe it or not, the Jerusalem Talmud calls honoring parents “an easy mitzvah.” (I didn’t believe it either…)

It is noted that when the Ten Commandments were first given at Mount Sinai back in the Book of Exodus, the words “as the Lord your God has commanded you” are absent. What is the significance of this phrase, and why is it added here when the Ten Commandments are issued for the second time?

Some explain that honoring one’s parents is like repaying a debt. If a person lends you money when you need it, you would likely only be too happy to lend them money when they need it, especially if able to do so. Similarly, parents put in lots of time and money into raising children. Honoring our parents is our way of paying back this “debt.”

But maybe this is not right. True, we often look at honoring our parents as paying back a debt. While the thought may seem noble, perhaps the Torah us telling us that the only real reason we should be honoring our parents is because “the Lord your God has commanded you” to do so. We do not do a mitzvah because it might make sense or seem reasonable. The only true reason we perform any of the commandments of the Torah is because the Lord our God commands us to do so.

On that note, to what extent are we obligated to show honor to our parents? The Talmud answers this question with the story of the famous and righteous non-Jew, Dama of Ashkelon.

Respect and Consideration are Priceless Qualities

The Sages once needed a precious stone for the breastplate of the High Priest. They heard that Dama was a merchant who sold exactly this stone, and so they sent a delegation to Dama to purchase it. The sages were ready to pay a high price. This stone was absolutely essential if the breastplate of the High Priest was to be ritually kosher.

When the sages arrived at Dama’s home, they told them their story and how they wanted to purchase the stone. Dama explained that he was unable to sell them the stone at the time because the stone (or, according to some versions ,the key to the safe where the stone was stored) was under his father’s pillow, and his father was asleep. Dama refused to wake his father up, not even for the handsome sum. Not even for a delegation of sages who came all the way from Jerusalem.

The sages were disappointed, and Dama lost the sale.

Some time later, a perfect red heifer, the type needed for ritual purity in the Holy Temple, was born in Dama’s herd. The sages came to purchase it.

“How much do you want for it?” the sages asked.

“I know that you would give me any price I ask,” Dama replied. “But I only want the amount of money I lost by not waking my father up when you came for the stone.” And so it was.

It follows, therefore, that if Dama could resist making a large profit, preferring to allow his father to sleep, certainly those of us who are commanded by the Torah to honor our parents should make an extra effort to do so.