Parasha Yitro: Revelation, the 5th Commandment and Caring

So we come this week to one of the great portions of Torah, the section, known as Yitro, which brings us to Mt. Sinai and the 10 Commandments. High drama to be sure. One of the life stages that many, if not all, Boomers live through is that of care-giver. With longevity a reality, many of us have and are caring for an elderly parent. The 5th Commandment, “Honor your Father and Mother” is no longer an abstract. The question often becomes, how can I honor my mom or dad now that, as is often the case, roles are reversed? In Talmud Tractate “Kiddushin” (31b-32a) there is a lengthy discussion on this Commandment. What is amazing to teach is that though the Talmud is centuries old, it has messages that are all too timely.
In that Talmudic discussion, we are told what it means to “honor” (in Hebrew, “kabeid”) our parents.We are told it is by helping to feed them, clothe them, and assisting them in their mobility. Then the Talmud asks, “who pays”? Rabbi Judah says the child, while Rabbi Nathan says the parent. Rabbi Michael Chernick, a professor at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institite of Religion in New York, unpacks the discussion in the Talmud in an article entitled “Who Pays: The Talmudic Approach to Filial Responsibility” (1) Chernick notes a discussion that says that if a parent is able to contribute, then the parent pays. So, how does an adult child “pay”?”If the parent is to pay”, writes Chernick, “in what way does the child observe the requirment to pay for his/her parent’s honor? The answer is through time given up from gainful pursuits” (2)
How modern is that! The Talmud understood that we care-givers often are called upon to pay for mom or dad’s “honor” by the giving of our time. The driving to the doctor, the waiting for the appointment, the trip to the pharmacy, the quiet lunch on the way back to mom or dad’s home. Before you know it, a half a day has flown by. The point of this is to remind us that the tradition speaks to situations that all of us are living, have lived or will live.
That 5th Commandment takes on amazing new meaning when we are called upon to give of our time, and yes at times money. It can be “costly” for care-givers to be called upon to give of so much time, as so many do. But, as some have said, we are just returning the “mitzvah” that they did for us. And remember, our children are watching us as we live out that Commandment. They watch and learn how to care for a loved one.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min

(1): “WHo Pays? The Talmudic Approach to Filial Responsibility”. Rabbi Michael Chernick. “That You May Live Long: Caring for Our Aging Parents, Caring for Ourselves”. Address and Person, Eds. URJ Press. NYC, NY.
(2): Ibid.p. 95

1 Comment

  1. Richie,

    very interesting commentary. I am honored by how my three have responded in the last month to wife jan’s recent diagnosis of malignant metastatic melanoma, given that 2 live in Chicago, and my daughter is in nyc. they definitely fulfill the commandment.

    thanks for sending this.


    your picture shows that you are always ready for color war

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