We are here to improve our relationships with others
in order to transform the Jewish people in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Discuss a concern you have with someone in a productive way, with extra planning toward being respectful.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Honoring Parents - Kibbud Av Va'Eim
The fact that honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments clearly testifies to the profound importance and severity of this mitzva. Chazal tell us (Sota 49b) that in the days preceding Mashiach, “chutzpa will be rampant. The young will shame the old…” We understand this phenomenon too well. Our children say things to us that we never would have dreamed of saying to our parents. Yet we must look at ourselves and ask if we are treating our parents the way we should. The higher the level we are on, the higher the level the next generation after us will be. Our children certainly take notice of how we treat and talk about our parents.
Our obligation of kibbud av va’eim extends beyond our birth parents. We are obligated to honor our in-laws as well. We have much reason to be grateful to them. They brought our spouse into the world. Another set of parents we are obligated to honor is step-parents. The pasuk (verse) (Shemos 20:12) says, “Kabed es avicha v’es imecha-Honor your mother and father.” Chazal (Kesubos 103a) expound that the first extra word “es” includes a stepfather, while the second includes a stepmother.
Kibbud av va’eim is not limited to the way we interact with our parents or how well we take care of them. It’s about developing true respect for them. How great are the words of the Chayei Adam (klal 67), who writes that the essence of the obligation of honoring one’s parents is in one’s heart. This does not seem like an easy task. Often, those who struggle the most to respect their parents are those who feel their parents aren’t good to them. If they carry resentment towards their parents then they don’t respect them, despite their accomplishments. How can we be expected to feel respect for our parents if we don’t think of them as outstanding individuals? One excellent idea is that one should focus on his parents’ strongest midda. For example, focus on your father’s honesty or your mother’s generosity. Find something that each one excels at and focus on it.
The Sefer HaChinuch (mitzva 33) writes that mitzva of kibbud av va’eim was given to inculcate in us the midda (attribute) of hakaras hatov, gratitude for the good done for us. To paraphrase his poignant words:
“From the roots of this mitzva is that one should recognize and repay kindness to someone who does good for you, and not be a base person to deny the good…That a person should take to heart that his father and mother are the reason for his existence, and therefore it is fitting for him to do every honor and benefit for them possible. Furthermore, they exerted so much effort into him in his youth. When a person internalizes this character trait in his heart, he will come to recognize the good of HaShem (G-d), for He is the cause of his and all his forefathers’ existence.”
(Reproduced from Run After the Right Kavod by Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum, with permission of the author and copyright holders, Israel Bookshop Publications).
Story: (based on a true story)
I spent a lot of my life feeling disconnected from my father. We had played games and laughed together through my early childhood, but starting from when I hit my teen years, I first decided he was embarrassing, and then I was convinced he was clueless and frivolous. Then I resigned myself to knowing that he didn’t understand me but he was doing what he thought was best, and had lived a pretty cool life so far.
Finally, in my adult years, I settled into a headspace in which my dad was full of life and happiness, truly dedicated to HaShem, and a great person who would do anything for me, but also had some habits and ways that I didn’t want to inherit or pass on.
In theory, that sounds like a pretty typical way of thinking-you appreciate your parents for what and who they are, and choose the parts of them you want to perpetuate and those you want to leave to them. In practice, I often let the things that bothered me overwhelm what should have been my unlimited respect and appreciation for his gifts and all he’d done for me.
Dad told my kids jokes and stories I didn’t appreciate. When the kids were still really little, I just brushed them off, but as they grew old enough to understand and repeat them, I grew resentful. I regularly spoke to him as respectfully as I knew how and asked that he please not tell those jokes and stories with the kids around. He always agreed to refrain but then forgot to stop himself until afterwards. I was annoyed that I had to deal with this. Who wants to be upset with their father for making his grandkids laugh?
I was annoyed when whole Shabbos meals went by with no words of Torah because my kids were all busy having fun with my dad away from the table. He also had table manners I had copied as a kid and spent years trying to refine afterwards. I made the mistake of asking him to refrain from a few in my home, and he became offended and told me that everyone in my family needed to lighten up. So I said nothing when I worked hard for an entire visit, the kids had said goodbye to their grandparents, and then my dad decided he was enjoying himself so much that they would stay another day or two. Inside I fumed.
I got my father the special foods he liked. I made sure his bed was comfortable. I responded to his email forwards and told him about my kids and my work. I did the “good daughter” things. But I felt I had lost the respect, and that I was doing it all just because I had to and not because I wanted to. I gave myself credit for doing it anyway, but I wished it wasn’t so hard.
And then my father, my full-of-life, always on the go, bouncy father, had a mild heart attack. Thank G-d he recovered well, but for months afterward he was not himself. He was cranky and anxious and needy and there were no jokes. And I missed him. Every single thing about him that annoyed me, I missed. I thought hard about everything that he had done for me, and about how it was often the character traits that went along with those very things that bugged me. These traits had given me a joyous childhood that was the foundation for everything I have gained on my own since then, even if it’s not the same exact childhood I want for my kids.
I felt the love and respect take me over, and as my dad slowly became himself again, I began to more easily tolerate his quirks. I could communicate more effectively with him about why a particular setting might not be the best one for the expression of his humor, because I really did appreciate it, and could suggest another outlet. I bought a silly game for my kids to play with my dad after the Shabbos meal, and explained that I’d like to try to keep them at the table for lunch but would love if he could entertain them afterward.
I still had a hard time with some of my dad’s habits, but now I had perspective. I might not always agree with my father, but that doesn’t always make him wrong, and even if he is, it should not lessen my respect for him. If I truly feel that respect, I can deal better even when his way happens to be wrong for my family.
My respect for my father should not need to depend on a tragedy. I need to work at it to make sure it doesn’t lessen, because large events only help for a certain amount of time- after that, we need to do the work. So on those days when I feel myself getting irritated, I pull out my old picture albums and remind myself that my father, with his innate joy and exuberance, is a gift to me and to my kids, and to many people around us. If it comes with a few side effects, I can deal, because I truly respect the man he is and am grateful for all he has done for me.
Questions for Discussion:
Why do we sometimes have a hard time respecting our parents?
In what practical ways can we help ourselves to both feel and show respect for our parents?
What thoughts and actions can help us respect out parents even when we disagree with them or feel harmed by them? How can we safeguard ourselves and our families while still showing respect?
Stretch of the Week:
Overlook a negative act or trait in a parent or elder and focus on a positive one instead.