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Thursday, 15 August, 2019 - 4:56 pm

Today I want to talk about honoring parents. What is the connection with this week?  Before Moshe passed away, he spent the last 40 days of his life repeating the Torah to the Jewish people and charging them with the Mitzvot that they were to observe in the Land of Israel. Among other things that we read in this week’s Parsha is Moshe’s repetition of the Ten Commandments, the fifth of which is “Honor your father and your mother.”


I am going to go out on a limb and write some things that many people might find controversial. (The truth is that this is nothing new.  The Rebbe, his father-in-law the previous Rebbe, and the leaders of Chassidus throughout the ages have taught this, I believe, but many of us were not listening, and a lot of pain has been caused by that.) 


This Mitzvah of honoring parents was chosen by Hashem as one of the ten primary Mitzvot (out of 613) that He Himself spoke on Mount Sinai and that He inscribed on the holy Tablets. On a basic level it is showing appreciation to our parents for what they did for us, or even if we feel they did nothing for us, we owe our existence to them. But more than that, they were partners with Hashem in our creation, and this puts our reverence for them on a much higher level.


It is the parents’ responsibility to educate their children to be a “mensch” and to follow the path that the Torah teaches us in order to fulfill our mission on earth as Jews. This education includes teaching them this Mitzvah of honoring parents.  It is not possible or fair to make broad statements about an entire group of people, but I think it is safe to say that many people in recent generations taught this concept by setting rules and demanding respect. Children who questioned their parents, and certainly those who challenged them, were often told sternly that they need to respect their parents and to watch their mouths. I also think it is safe to say that most kids in previous generations accepted that as a given and for the most part it kind of worked. (And of course there were those who just ran away or the parents just gave up.)


Every generation has said that we live in a different generation, but I think we can agree that we live in a completely different world than before. The internet and social media have changed the world. Children today don’t need their parents or teachers to tell them about the world. In addition, popular culture leans heavily toward rejecting parents and blaming them for every ill anyone has.  Like the story of the elderly lady who bragged to her friends that her son spends thousands of dollars just on her!  He meets with an expensive therapist twice a week and all he talks about is her!


How do we teach our children respect for us in this environment? (What I am writing is the tip of the iceberg.  It would require at least a six-hour seminar to properly discuss the issues.)  Demanding doesn’t work. I think that in today’s world, the way we teach our children to respect us is by showing them that we notice them and care about them. In our busy day we need to stop and listen - really listen - to our children. We must hear their struggles and not judge them, but guide them gently and lovingly, giving them the inner strength and courage to help them overcome and thrive. We must notice them. Notice the good in them and help nurture that.  Express to them how we notice the steps they take to do the right thing.  Show them that we have faith in them and not constantly berate them for the mistakes they make. We are all human and make mistakes. It is important for our children to know that we love them unconditionally for who they are and will never reject them if they stray. They have to know that if they express frustration with us, we will try to understand what is bothering them and accept responsibility for what we can do to help them, including recognizing the unintended impact of our actions and being willing to change our approach. If we can treat our children like this, the chances are much greater that they will respect us. In our time people respect honesty and vulnerability. Parents who are honest and vulnerable gain their children’s respect much more than those who demand blind respect. This is the formula, in our age, to fortify our children, to help them buck the trend and live a meaningful life according to Torah, and yes, to raise children who truly respect their parents.

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