The name of this month, Av, means “father.” This is the month to connect to our parents (father and mother) and honor them.
“Honor your father and your mother…” is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. The sages teach that God placed the honor of one’s parents even before His own honor.
Why is honoring one’s parents such a great mitzvah? Three different reasons are given:
- They did so much for me…. Without them I wouldn’t be here, not to mention the endless effort and investment of resources that they put into my upbringing.
- To honor my parents is to acknowledge, strengthen, and deeply enroot in my consciousness the Jewish tradition that they passed down to me, as that tradition descends and unfolds itself from generation to generation.
- To honor my parents is in essence to honor God, for His Infinite Light – the power of procreation – enclothed itself in them when they conceived me. They reflect for me the presence of the Almighty Creator.
In the Zohar we find that “Israel, the Torah, and the Holy One blessed be He are one.” The three reasons to honor one’s parents, in the above order, correspond to Israel, the Torah, and God, respectively.
The first reason is that my parents deserve my honor as does any person who has bestowed goodness and loving-kindness to me. By honoring my parents I express my heartfelt thanks to them. They represent for me the ideal of devotion of one soul to another. And so they reflect in my consciousness the essence of my people, Israel, of whom it is said, “All Israel are friends.” In this sense, to honor my parents is to honor Israel, the people to whom they belong. According to this reason the mitzvah to honor one’s parents is a mitzvah “between man and man.”
The second reason clearly corresponds to the Torah. According to this reason I see my parents as a link (the most proximate link to me) in the chain of tradition of the Torah from our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to the present day. In Hebrew, the word “parent” (הורה) and Torah (תורה) are cognate. A parent is thus one who hands down the Torah to me.
The third reason corresponds to God Himself, who enclothed His Infinite Light in my parents when they conceived me and can still be seen as present in them. According to this reason the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents is a mitzvah “between man and God.” I look at my parents and see the Divine reflected in them. And so, by honoring my parents on the physical plane in a sense I worship my Creator, my Father in Heaven, on the spiritual plane. Only a Jewish soul is able to make this fine distinction without falling into what would be equivalent to idolatry, to worship one’s physical parents, God forbid. That’s why, according to this opinion, honoring one’s parents is not one of the seven commandments of the children of Noah, given to all of humanity, though it is certainly a most praiseworthy attribute for all human beings. Indeed, the sages bring as the greatest example of honoring one’s parents the story of Dama ben Natina, a non-Jew (but who in the end took a stone from his father’s grave and erected it as an idol).