I spent some time this evening helping my mom put together some clothes for her trip to the rehab center after she gets her brand-spanking-new hip next week. Being my mom, she’s trying to anticipate every possible thing she can before she goes in, and being my mom, she keeps trying to make sure I’m not inconvenienced. Ya gotta love her.
Actually, I don’t have to, but I do. What I do have to do is honor her, and we get that pretty well spelled out in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro. It’s been on my mind a lot, when I looked at the date of her surgery and the Torah calendars…yes, it will actually be the week of Mishpatim, but all these preparations keep bringing me back to that 5th commandment: You shall honor your mother and father.
As has been written often, if one looks at the 10 Commandments, they easily split into two groups, and the Rabbis would say that the first 4 are between the individual and God; 6-10 are those that address the relationship between individuals….and #5 , the one that tells us to honor our parents, is the bridge between the two. God and parents are partners in creation. As such, parents must have our honor and respect. But that’s not necessarily love; that they must earn, like every other relationship we develop.
It’s one thing to ask, “What does it mean to honor one’s parents?” And the Talmud goes into great detail trying to answer that question: don’t sit where your father sits, don’t contradict your father’s Torah quote, and one must even go begging to keep one’s parents in sustenance .
The word “honor/respect” is an interesting one, not just in and of itself, but in viewing it’s connection to other words. In Hebrew, “honor/respect” is kavod, and the 3 letter root (shoresh) is k-v-d. It’s the same root as the word kaved, which means heavy. Literally, heavy – like a stone is heavy. It’s the same as the word that kept describing Pharaoh’s heart the last few weeks: his heart was hardened, made heavy. I’ve been thinking about that, too…why the word for honor/respect is the same as the word for heavy/burdensome.
What’s the connection, in light of the commandment to honor our parents? Well, one would be foolish to say that sometimes, there is a weightiness to taking care of parents….sometimes it is heavy. (Not you, Mom, this is just in the abstract, of course!) But I don’t think it’s because of errands or doctors’ appointments, or picking up mail. The heavy, burdensome side of honor exists when there is no love between (adult) child and parent to counteract the weight. We still have responsibilities to our parents. And sometimes that becomes so heavy, indeed. Sometimes we have to do really difficult things, things that put stones in our hearts, like getting Dad out of the danger of living alone in that big house, and moving him into a safer residence, Or taking over the checkbook, taking the car keys away. Or unplugging. To take care of our parents in those ways is to feel truly the weight of honoring them.
In general, parents don’t want to become burdens to their children. They don’t want to weigh them down. And some parents are more comfortable than others, when it comes to asking for and receiving help. Things may look the same: taking the keys is taking the keys. But doing so out of love and honor leaves a far better taste and causes far fewer tears. It’s never a burden when love lightens the load.
I know I will remember that next week, when Mom becomes very weak, so that she can become stronger. I hope she’ll remember it, too.