One who is disrespectful to his or her parents, such as being rough with them or speaking to them harshly, is cursed by God, as it is said: “Cursed be he that dishonors his father or his mother.”
In Part 2 on the topic of honoring parents, I would like to share some of the rulings of Jewish law. Many of these practices should be obvious and natural, but unfortunately we live in a generation when people do not show proper respect to their parents nor to the elderly. It is therefore necessary to reiterate even self-evident guidelines for respecting parents.
According to Jewish law, one is required to stand when one’s father or mother enters the room as an expression of honor. One must also give honor to parents when entering or exiting a room with them. As such, one should allow the father or mother to enter or exit the room first.
One must show respect for one’s parents when walking with them in public. If a parent walks with one of his or her children, the child should allow the parent to walk on the right side, which is considered the more respectful position. If a parent walks with two of his or her children, then the children should allow the parent to walk in the middle as a sign of respect. One child should walk to the parent’s right, and the other to the parent’s left.
A lesser-known aspect of the mitzvah (commandment) of honoring one’s parents is that there is an obligation to honor those whom one’s parents honor. As such, one must show respect and honor to a parent’s close friends and associates. Of course, it is important to act respectfully and courteously to all people, but one must act with extra respect towards a parent’s close friends, as doing so brings honor to the parent.
By the same token, one should respect a parent’s siblings – aunts and uncles – as an extension of the requirement to honor one’s parents. According to some opinions, it is considered improper to call one’s aunts and uncles by their first names unless they have explicitly permitted it. Otherwise, one should instead refer to them by the title “Aunt” or “Uncle.” And yes, one must honor one’s in-laws. Our sages note that when Moses met his father in law, he bowed down to him. So, too, we find that King David called his father-in-law (King Saul) “my father.”
In the previous article on the commandment to honor one’s parents, we read the story of Dama and learned that it is forbidden to awaken one’s parents even if the result would be a huge financial loss. Nevertheless, if the parents would appreciate being woken up, one is certainly permitted to do so. According to Jewish law, one is required to show respect and honor for a step-mother and step-father. One must also honor and respect grandparents. One is even required to honor an older brother and sister.
Disagreeing with Respect
When a parent does something wrong, one must not say, “That was a bad thing to do.” Rather, one should say, for example: “Father, would it have been better to do it this way?” By doing so, one would essentially be consulting the parents rather than admonishing them.
One who is disrespectful to his or her parents, such as being rough with them or speaking to them harshly, is cursed by God, as it is said: “Cursed be he that dishonors his father or his mother.” (Deut 27:16).
One must honor his or her parents even after their death. For example, when mentioning parents after their death, one should add: “May his (or her) memory be a blessing.”
Although children are commanded to go to great lengths to honor their parents, a parent is forbidden to impose too heavy a burden upon them or to be too exacting in matters pertaining to their honor. A parent should forgive slight slips on the honor owed them.