As a rabbi I see my fair share of family broigeses, despite my own family being inevitably a model of perfection! However, the idea the Torah deems a child who disrespects their parent as a crime worthy of capital punishment is surely an over-reaction.
It’s the negative articulation of the fifth of the “10 commandments”, honour your father and mother, so that you should live a long life.
Commentators found practical reasons for this, seeing an agricultural society who relied on each generation working together for their very survival.
However I see a powerfully timeless message here. Why does respecting your parents mean you live longer, while cursing them is akin to your own death?
The answer lies in the response of the third generation. If you show your children the respect you have for your parents, you set the example of how you anticipate being treated in old age.
You then live well, being supported in later life and living on as they embody your values long after you have died.
But if the third generation see you cursing their grandparents, you are diminished in their eyes. There is a role reversal; in your curses they see their parent behaving as a cross teenager, creating a cycle of disrespect.
He that curses his parents becomes so childlike that it is as if the third generation have lost a parental figure, as if you have died.
This verse of Torah is our warning to treat your parents as you would want your children to treat you. Though we know that sometimes cursing is inevitable, the challenge is to parent differently, so as to protect the next generation.
- Rabbi Miriam Berger is rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue