The 5th Commandment, By Jeremy Toren, Director of Jewish Life & Judaic Studies, MUS
The 5th Commandment
This week’s Torah portion, Yitro, lists the Ten Commandments. Every time I study this portion, I am struck by the uniqueness of the fifth commandment, to honor one’s parents: “Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that the Lord your God is assigning to you.” (Exodus 20:12).
This commandment is unique for a couple of reasons, but the part that stands out to me is the fact that this is the only one of the ten for which we are provided with an incentive. Not only that, but the incentive doesn’t seem to be directly connected to the commandment. Why would we live longer in the land that God assigned to us – presumably the land of Israel – if we honor our parents?
One answer can be found in Sefer Hachinuch, a book of unknown authorship from the medieval period which discusses each of the 613 commandments. Discussing this commandment, the book suggests that the reason that honoring one’s parents is so important is that it teaches us the essential value of gratitude. By appreciating those who brought us into this world, we learn not to take things for granted. The connection between parental respect and the Jewish presence in the land of Israel becomes clear.
We and our children are fortunate to grow up in an era in which the Jewish state is alive and well – but only after nearly 2,000 years of exile. We know better than to take Israel’s existence for granted. Thus, as we prepare to spend an entire week learning about and celebrating Israel, let us not forget the all-important value of gratitude – and let us also remember to recognize our parents for all that they do!
Director of Jewish Life and Judaic Studies, Maimonides Upper School