Torah Reading: Parshat Acharei-Kedoshim Leviticus 16:1 - 20-27
Haftora: Amos 9:7 - 15

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 7:35 p.m.  
Shabbat Ends: 8:39 p.m.








Acharei - Kedoshim


Be Holy! Revere your Mother and Father

The second of the two Torah portions that we will read this Shabbos is called Kedoshim. Moses addresses the entire Jewish people with these opening words: “You shall be holy, for I G‑d your G‑d am holy.”

If someone would be asked what Mitzvah would qualify as one that makes us holy, most people would not give the first example provided by the Torah: “Every man, your  mother and father shall you revere.”

What does revering a parent have to do with holiness? Holiness is usually defined as spiritual behavior. A person who leads a spiritual life, divorced from mundane activities and material pursuits is usually regarded as a holy person.

Soul Relationship

One answer given is that revering a parent is an acknowledgment that there is a soul relationship between parent and child. Without the recognition of a soul, why is the biological reproductive process of a human being any different from that of an animal? Or, for that matter, what makes parenting different from other physical phenomena. We don’t revere rain or food, although they are absolutely necessary for life.

We can understand why we must be grateful to a parent. He or she provides (or provided) us with our needs, and does so by choice not by instinct or a natural compulsion. Evidence of that is the tragic phenomenon of parents who choose to neglect and abuse their offspring.

Even though we must show gratitude to anyone who gives us something of value, we don’t necessarily revere them. We don’t revere the farmer, grocer, plumber, et al., regardless of how grateful we may be to them for providing their services. So why do we have to revere our parents? Why can’t we just express our gratitude to them.

Difference Between Honoring and Revering

Before answering those questions it is necessary for us to clarify the nature of the commandment to revere our parents and how it differs from the one in the Ten Commandments (Or: Ten Statements): “Honor your father and mother.”

What is the difference between honor and revere?

The Talmud sheds light on the difference by defining honoring parents as providing them with their needs. Feed them; go on errands for them etc. Providing them with their needs is one of the ways we show how much we value them. In fact, the world for honor in Hebrew is Cabed (not Covid, G‑d forbid!), the root of which means heavy. We acknowledge, regard and appreciate their value and their gravitas by giving them things, catering to their needs and desires.

The commandant to revere them, by contrast, means we should not interrupt them, correct them disrespectfully, sit in their designated place, etc. Revering a parent is akin to the reverence people would give to a monarch; it’s a way of recognizing that he or she is our superior.

This premise actually reinforces the question of why would we have reason to revere a parent and place them on a pedestal. This is unlike the commandment to honor them. This is no different from honoring, and showing appreciation for, anyone who is good to us. But, what makes parents superior to us simply because they brought us into this world?

We are Not Products of Random Mutations

The answer to this question is precisely the reason why this Mitzvah is the first example the Torah provides for the definition of being holy.

The fact that we are commanded to revere our parents is proof that we are not just physical beings; the products of random mutations. We have Divine souls which are inextricably tied up with other souls.

Reverence for parents is actually reverence for their Divine component and therefore our reverence for them is vicariously reverence for the Divine.

More G‑dly than our Souls: Why?

This explanation, however, only partially answers our questions. While we acknowledge the organic connection between our souls and our parents, what makes the souls of our parents more G‑dly than our own?

The answer lies in the way G‑d allows Himself to be detected in the physical world of nature.

The universe, by definition, was created (and continues to be created) by G‑d as a finite existence that obscures and eclipses its G‑dly nature. But, even in nature there are cracks, where one can see the hand of G‑d. The sporadic miracles from Biblical times onward are one example of G‑d removing the veil. But miracles are, by definition, an imposition on nature. Nature is suppressed momentarily and then bounces back to its state of concealment of its Creator.

Where do we see G‑d’s infinite “hand” in nature itself?

One answer is in the constancy of nature. It is a hint to the unchanging Divine element that is present in the natural order and allows it to continue. But, constancy can also be misconstrued as a sign that nature itself is all-powerful and infinite.

The most dramatic manifestation of Divine infinity within the finitude of nature is the birth of a child. Reproduction is the perpetuation of life as infinitum, reflecting the Divine power of infinity into the Creation.  

When we bring a child into the world we are touched with a taste of that Infinity.

The reverence we must have for our parents is thus based on two combined factors.

First, it is reverence for their Divine souls. But our Divine souls are contained in bodies which diminish their infinite power. When we become parents, the infinite nature of our Divine souls shines more brightly and gives our parents the right to be revered.

This explanation is perhaps the meaning of what the Talmud had in mind when it states that G‑d equates the honor and reverence we must have for our parents with the honor and reverence we must have for G‑d; parents are G‑d’s partners in our creation.

Showing honor and reverence for our parents is tantamount to showing honor and reverence to G‑d.

We can now understand how revering parents is considered holy. Revering parents only makes sense when we acknowledge the holiness of G‑d within creation. This is best accomplished by revering our parents.

But one is still entitled to challenge this explanation: What happens when the children become parents themselves and likewise manifest G‑dly infinity? Why are we then not equal to our parents? Just as they manifested infinity through parenthood so have we!

Basking in the Light of Sinai Versus the Light of Moshiach

One answer to this challenge is that parents have the advantage that they are one generation closer to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The glow of Sinai gets weaker with the passage of time and the progression of generations. Our parents are therefore more connected to G‑d’s revelation at Sinai. It is that connection that we stand in awe of and which we treat our parents with awe and reverence.

However, there is an important caveat to this. While Torah will never change and we will always have to honor and revere our parents, we are living during the very last moments of Galus about which it said that Elijah “will restore the hearts of the fathers to and through their sons.”

In other words, and as the Rebbe emphasized repeatedly, we are living in an age when the young will bring back and inspire their elders and parents. One explanation for this phenomenon is that while our parents are closer to, and therefore reflect more forcefully, the light of Sinai, our children are closer to the light of the future.

So now we enjoy an unprecedented reciprocal relationship with our children; they must honor and revere us because of the Divinity that we exude and we must honor and even revere them because of their closer proximity to the future.