The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
Honour thy Parents.
The Bible makes man's parents equally deserving, with the Most High, of his honour and reverence. "Honour thy
father and thy mother," is one of the precepts of the Decalogue, and it is also written, "Honour God from thy wealth." "Fear thy father and mother," and "The Lord thy God shalt thou fear," are also divine inculcations, while the penalty for the blasphemous child, who sins against either his earthly parents or the great Father of the Universe, is the same, even as it is written, "Who curses his father and his mother shall be put to death," and "Every man who blasphemes God shall carry his death."
"Three friends," said the Rabbis, "has man." God, his father, and his mother. "He who honours his parents," says God, "honours me, even as though I lived among them."
Rabbi Judah said, "Known and revealed are the ways of man. A mother coaxes a child with kind words and gentle ways, gaining honour and affection; therefore, the Bible says, 'Honour thy father,' before 'honour thy mother.' But in regard to fearing, as the father is the preceptor of the child, teaching it the law, the Bible says, 'Every man shall fear his mother,' before the word 'father.'"
Rabbi Ulah was once asked, "How extended should be this honour due to parents?"
"Listen, and I will tell ye how thoroughly it was observed by a heathen, Damah, the son of Nethina. He was a diamond merchant, and the sages desired to purchase from him a jewel for the ephod of the high priest. When they reached his house, they found that the key of the safe in which the diamond was kept was in the possession of Damah's father, who was sleeping. The son absolutely refused to wake his father, to obtain the key, even when the sages in their impatience offered him a much larger sum for the jewel than he had demanded. And further, when his father
awoke, and he delivered the diamond to the purchasers, and they offered him the larger sum which they had named, he took from it his first price, returning the balance to them, with the words, 'I will not profit by the honour of my father.'"
Man cannot always judge of man, and in the respect paid to parents by their children, earthly eyes cannot always see the truth. For instance, a child may feed his parents on dainties, and yet deserve the punishment of a disrespectful son; while another may send his father to labour, and yet deserve reward. How may this be?
A certain man placed dainty food before his father, and bade him eat thereof. When the father had finished his meal, he said:
"My son, thou hast prepared for me a most delicious meal. Wherefrom didst thou obtain these delicacies?" And the son replied, insultingly:
"Eat as the dogs do, old man, without asking questions."
That son inherited the punishment of disrespect.
A certain man, a miller, had a father living with him, at the time when all people not working for themselves were obliged to labour a certain number of days for the government. When it came near the time when this service would be required of the old man, his son said to him, "Go thou and labour for me in the mill, and I will go and work for the government."
He said this because they who laboured for the government were beaten if their work proved unsatisfactory, and he thought "it is better for me to run the chance of being beaten than to allow my father to risk it." Therefore, he deserved the reward of the son who "honours his father."
Rabbi Chiyah asserted that God preferred honour shown to parents, to that displayed towards Himself. "It is
written," said he, "'Honour the Lord from thy wealth.' How? Through charity, good deeds, putting the mezuzah upon thy doorposts, making a tabernacle for thyself during Succoth, &c.; all this if thou art able. If thou art poor the omission is not counted a sin or a neglect. But it is written, 'Honour thy father and thy mother,' and the duty is demanded alike of rich and poor; aye, even shouldst thou be obliged to beg for them from door to door."
Rabbi Abahu said, "Abini, my son, hath obeyed this precept even as it should be observed."
Abini had five children, but he would not allow any of them to open the door for their grandfather, or attend to his wants when he himself was at home. Even as he desired them in their lives to honour him, so he paid respect to his father. Upon one occasion his father asked him for a glass of water. While he was procuring it the old man fell asleep, and Abini, re-entering the room, stood by his father's side with the glass in his hand until the latter awoke.
"What is fear?" and "What is honour?" ask the Rabbis.
Fear thy mother and thy father, by sitting not in their seats and standing not in their places; by paying strict attention to their words and interrupting not their speech. Be doubly careful not to criticise or judge their arguments or controversies.
Honour thy father and thy mother, by attending to their wants; giving them to eat and to drink; put their raiment upon them, and tie their shoes if they are not able to perform these services for themselves.
Rabbi Eleazer was asked how far honour towards parents should be extended, and he replied: "Cast all thy wealth into the sea; but trouble not thy father and thy mother."
Simon, the son of Jochai, said: "As the reward to those
who honour their parents is great, so is the punishment equally great for those who neglect the precept."
Each precept of the Bible states what the reward for its observance will be, and with this one we are told, "In order that thy days may be prolonged, and in order that it may go well with thee."
That thy days may be prolonged, not only in this world, but also in the world to come.