The Torah commands us to honour our parents. But anyone who has been a child knows this is sometimes easier said than done.
The Talmud situates the discussion about honouring one’s parents alongside one about the responsibilities that parents have towards their children, reminding us that the parent-child relationship is a reciprocal one.
Parents are responsible for feeding, teaching, training and caring for their children. In return, children are obliged to honour their parents and take care of them when they are able to do so.
The Talmud details the lengths a person must go to in order to honour their parents, including seemingly tolerating extreme or irrational behaviour, such as when a father throws his son’s purse of money into the sea or a mother tears her son’s clothes and spits in his face.
Children should not undermine their parents’ teaching and take care in correcting mistakes they make so as not to embarrass them.
These obligations seemingly put undue pressure on the child to be subject to behaviour unacceptable to modern sensibilities.
Maimonides explains that a parent is not allowed to intentionally exploit these rules and exercise wanton, irrational behaviour.
If they do, they place a “stumbling block before the blind” and the child can forgo their parents’ honour and ignore them.
If the behaviour is as a result of diminished capacity on behalf of parents, then the child is also not considered to be dishonouring them if they need to charge someone else with their care.
Parents are to be honoured, but our tradition acknowledges that relationships are a two-way street.
υ Deborah Blausten is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College