|HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER
Rabbi Israel Chait
The following article is a response from Rabbi Chait to a question from a ben Noah. Rabbi Chait welcomes any such inquiries.
With regard to respect for one's parents you should notice that the Torah never says one must love one's parents only that one must respect them. The reason for this is quite simple. There is no special requirement of love for a parent as one must love one's neighbor, parent or otherwise. Respect is different. There are specifications that one must do for a parent. There are categories, positive and negative. The positive ones are basically of the nature of personal care such as preparing food, dressing, washing, taking care of them physically. The negative is basically not embrassing them or contradicting them verbally, interrupting them or of course verbally abusing them in any way. Obviously the Torah cannot legislate that one have warm, kind, feelings toward a parent no matter what. A parent is defined not as the one who raised you but the one who is your biological progenitor. Some parents are unkind to their children, abusing them or even abandoning them. How can such a child love, in the common sense of the word, such a parent? It is obviously impossible and the Torah does not demand that. But such a child can nevertheless perform certain activities and refrain from certain actions regradless.
Why did the Torah ask the child to do so? What is the reason for respect of one's parent? The Talmud explains, the reason is, because the parent partook in the creation of the child. The parent is the cause of the child's existence. This concept brings to the child's mind the idea of the ultimate cause of the child's existence - God.
So the Torah says when you see your parents you think of the cause of your existence, this reminds you of God. Respecting your parents is therefore respect for God. This is why one is not permitted to listen to one's parent if they tell them to violate Torah. This is the true idea of respect of parents. It is quite different than the common notion which really makes no sense in all cases of a biological parent.
In the case of loving a neighbor, if the neighbor is evil one does not have to love them. The same is true for a parent. Nevertheless there is an argument among scholars whether or not one must still respect such a parent, that is, do the positive and refrain from the negative activities. Most authorities agree that if the parent is truly evil the positive obligations are cancelled but the negative are still in place.
In the case where the parent is a known idolater and degrading the parent whould show respect for God even this is justified. The Talmud states that King Hezekiah dragged the bones of his father, the idolatrous Ahaz, in the streets to demonstrate that he is not following his father's evil way of life and he was praised for this. This is in line with the concept that respect for parents is really a reflection of respect for God. In the above isolated case it was necessary to degrade Ahaz to show respect for God and this was a righteous deed.
As in all subjects the ways of Torah are totally different than the ideas of man and must be studied in order to understand and appreciate their depth, their justice and their truth.