Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” –Ephesians 6:1-3
Some Rabbis were renowned for the remarkable respect they paid to their mothers. Of one it is told that ‘when he heard his mother’s footsteps he used to exclaim “I stand up before the Shechinah”‘ (Kid. 31b). Several stories are narrated of R. Tarphon. It was reported of him that ‘whenever his mother wanted to ascend her bed, he knelt down and she stepped on him; and she descended from the bed in the same way’ (ibid.).
As recorded in Everyman’s Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages
by Abraham Cohen
I love my parents. I’m not writing this blog post today to insult or denigrate them in any way. However as husband, adult son, parent of young adults, and a grandfather, it is “interesting” to find myself colliding with different commandments regarding being a son and being a husband.
I suppose in one sense, you could say that as a non-Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah (i.e. a Christian), the commandment to honor my parents does not apply to me. After all, the Mosaic covenant is specifically applied to the Children of Israel; the Jewish people. Yet we see the Apostle Paul teaching the same principle, doubtless from the same source, so I think the commandment crosses over from traditional Judaism to modern Christianity. The Master himself taught us to honor our parents and rebuked those who don’t:
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) – then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” –Mark 7:9-13
While Christianity pretty much leaves it up to the individual to interpret how to “honor your father and mother”, Judaism is a tad more specific, as Abraham Cohen writes in Everyman’s Talmud:
‘Scripture places the honouring of parents on an equality with the honouring of the Omnipresent’ –Peah I. I
Besides the quote from Cohen I posted above, there are many other references in the Talmud to making great sacrifices and even enduring insults from your parents for the sake of obeying the commandment to honor them. However, there’s another commandment that seems to “struggle” with the first:
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. –Genesis 2:24
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” –Matthew 19:4-6
There’s nothing in scripture that says once you leave your parents and become “one flesh” with your spouse, that your duty to honor your parents ceases to exist. That brings me to my “morning meditation”.
My wife, son, daughter, daughter-in-law, grandson, and I traveled to St. George, Utah to visit my parents over the long holiday. I know that my parents, though I love them very much, can occasionally be a bit trying. It’s usually pretty minor stuff, such as telling an embarrassing story about something I did in childhood for the thousandth time. They also have questionable taste in restaurants (all-you-can-eat buffets), but for the sake of my folks, I keep my mouth shut.
During our visit, the issue of eating out became a concern, particularly with my wife and daughter. They keep a form of kosher but it’s not so strict that it prevents us from eating at non-kosher restaurants, however we do like to eat at higher than “bargain basement” places. Unfortunately, my parents made one of their “questionable” eatery decisions. We were hoping they wouldn’t.
It wasn’t that big a deal or at least it shouldn’t have been. However, the evening after we ate out and periodically, during the drive home from Southern Utah to Boise, both my wife and daughter brought up how I should have pulled my parents aside and convinced them to pick another place.
I know, it sounds silly, but family arguments are often made of silly stuff.
My wife didn’t want to offend my folks by making the suggestion and neither did my kids. I honestly don’t remember anyone asking me to talk to my parents about it and in fact, until we arrived at the place (it was a Chuck-a-rama), I thought we had decided on eating at a completely different restaurant.
It didn’t occur to me to try to question my parents’ decision because this is what they wanted and, after all, they’re my parents. There’s a certain amount of tolerance that needs to be expressed. I’m sure my kids put up with some of my idiosyncracies and will do so more as I get older (my parents just turned 79). Unfortunately, my wife chose not to see it this way, and I got an earful of it more than once on the drive home…a ten hour drive home.
Between honoring your parents and cleaving to your wife, what’s the right thing to do? I don’t know. I chose to honor my parents and to keep my mouth shut when being criticized by my wife.
I know that it’s a small thing, but these small things can add up.
Men and women are different by God’s design, not only in our physical make up, but in who we are:
When the Infinite Light emanated a world, It did so with two minds, two states of consciousness. One mind sees from above to below—and so, all is insignificant before it. From above to below, there is no world, only One.
The other mind sees from below to above—and so all of creation is G-dly to it. From below to above, there is a world to point to the Oneness.
At the nexus of these two minds, at the crux of their paradox, there shines the very Essence of the Infinite Light.
The first mind descended into man; the second into woman.
That is why the man has the power to conquer and subdue, but he lacks a sense of the other.
That is why the woman feels the other. She does not conquer, she nurtures. But her light is tightly constrained and so she is full of harsh judgments.
As they bond together, the man sweetens the judgment of the woman and the woman teaches the man to feel the other. And in that union shines the very Essence of the Infinite.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
According to Rabbi Freeman, her mind is full of “harsh judgments” but at least in this case, I wasn’t successful in “sweetening” those judgments. Peace in the home is of high value in Judaism and probably in Christianity as well, yet there isn’t always peace. Sometimes two valued principles clash and you have to decide between one or the other. Honoring parents or cleaving to your spouse. I made a decision. It wasn’t a disaster. It’s not like my wife stopped speaking to me. But peace was damaged for a time.
Men and women are different. The difference between my wife and I is punctuated by the fact that I’m a Christian and she’s Jewish, but that isn’t the issue here. This sort of misunderstanding or disagreement could happen in any marriage. It happens in marriages a lot and it happens in my marriage a lot. It doesn’t always revolve around a “conflict” between the scriptures but from my point of view, this time it did. I have no idea how to resolve the difference except to let it blow over and move on. It was over a little thing. If it were a big thing, maybe I’d be more proactive. This time, I’ll let it be.
True peace is not a forced truce, not a homogenization of differences, not a common ground that abandons our home territories.
True peace is the oneness that sprouts from diversity, from a panorama of colors, strokes and textures. From the harmony of many instruments each playing a unique part, not one overlapping the other’s kingdom by even the breadth of a hair. There, in the most delightful beauty of this world, there shines G-d’s most profound oneness.
Those who attempt to blur those borders, they are unwittingly destroying the world. Beginning with the crucial border between man and woman—for this is the beginning of all diversity, the sharpest focus of G-d’s oneness, shining intensely upon His precious world.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
A Different Peace
God’s unique Oneness is expressed in the unity of marriage. God cannot know discord in Himself but human beings can. We aren’t a perfect reflection of His perfect, infinite light. Where is peace in the home? Where is peace in the soul? Where is peace with God? I’m writing to try to find the answers. Pray that I do.