Shabbat-Table Talks: Ahare Mot-Qedoshim

To read last year's Table Talk  click here.


By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>

[This week’s Table Talks is dedicated in memory of Miriam bat Rena, by her son David Abadi.]

Value: Showing respect to Parents and the Elderly. A basic value in Judaism is that of relating with respect to our parents and to the elderly. This value is so important that it is mentioned in the Ten Commandments. It is also repeated in the second perasha that we read this week, Qedoshim. While this is a very well known value, it is worthwhile to explore some aspects of this value.


Text: Vayiqra 19:1-3; 32

Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the entire community of the Children of Israel, and say to them: Holy are you to be, for holy am I, Hashem your God.


Each-man—his mother and his father you are to hold in awe, and my Sabbaths you are to keep: I am Hashem your God.


…In front of the aged, you are to rise, you are to honor the face of the elderly, thus holding your God in awe, I am Hashem.


Analysis: The holiness that God commands includes many different behaviors, including the way we relate to others and to God. The words “I am Hashem” repeat throughout this section, reminding us of the commander of these laws. The first idea mentioned is to revere your parents. Holiness begins with having the proper reverence and respect for your parents. This verse is coupled with idea of keeping the Shabbat. One might see these two ideas as exemplifying proper behavior to human beings along with proper behavior towards Hashem’s commandments. Later in the chapter, Hashem commands us to rise and show honor to the aged. This is also an act of holiness.


Discussion: Where else does the idea of respecting parents occur? (In the Asseret Hadiberot.) Can you quote the Torah’s words? (“kabed et abikha ve`et immekha”) (The idea here is to give your children a chance to show off their knowledge. If you can do that with a more challenging question that is even better.)


Why do you think that Hashem began to talk about holiness by about showing respect to parents? (The way we treat our parents will carry over into the way we treat God. Like God, our parents have done so much good for us that we take for granted. They provided for us and nurtured us for many years before we could even thank them. Recognizing this is the first step to recognizing the goodness of God, which we might take for granted as well. Recognizing God’s goodness and beneficence to us creates the sense of gratitude and of desiring to emulate God in His holiness.)


Why is Shabbat mentioned in the same verse as revering parents?


In addition to the idea mentioned above one might discuss an idea mentioned in the Sifra quoted by Rashi—

The Torah placed Shabbat next to revering parents in order to teach us that even though I have warned you about revering your parents, if your parent should tell you to violate the Shabbat, don’t listen to him. This applies to other commandments as well. I AM HASHEM YOUR GOD—you and your parent are obligated to revere Me, therefore do not obey him if he tells you to go against my word.


Does reverence include obedience? (From the above Midrash, one might say that unless the parent is asking his child to violate the Torah, reverence includes obedience. Yet, according to the Talmud reverence and respect do not include obedience. The Talmud defines these two ideas in very practical terms:

What is reverence? Do not stand in his place, do not sit in his place, do not openly contradict him, do not prove him wrong.

Respect—give him to eat and drink, dress, cover and help him get in and out. (Qiddushin 31b)

The idea of obedience is not included here. The reverence and respect demanded by the Talmud’s understanding of these verses is not an emotion, but certain actions that show respect and reverence. One must show respect and reverence for parents, even if one does not feel respect and reverence for them.


There is no limit to how much one must do to show respect for parents. The Talmud relates several stories about people (including non-Jews) who excelled in respecting their parents. Here is one of them:

Although the Tanna, R. Tarfon, was very wealthy and had many servants, there was one thing that he insisted upon doing himself, and that was caring for his elderly mother. R. Tarfon’s mother lived with R. Tarfon. She had her own room with a high bed. When it became difficult for her to climb in and out of bed, R. Tarfon would bend low so that she could use his back as a footstool.


One spring Shabbat morning, R. Tarfon’s mother went for a walk. As she was walking the strap of her sandal ripped. Quickly, R. Tarfon was by her side. He placed his hand underneath her foot so that she would be able to walk without getting her foot cold from the damp, early spring ground.


When R. Tarfon recounted these events to his colleagues in the bet midrash, they commented, “you still have not reached half of the reverence to parents required by the Torah.

(Adapted from Tales of Tzaddikim, based on Qidushin 31b)


Of course, the best way to teach this value is by modeling it by the way we treat our parents and elderly acquaintances. Our children pay very careful attention and absorb our attitudes without us noticing. Here is a story about one smart child and the way he taught his father a lesson about honoring parents.


Once there was a man who had an elderly father, whom he did not respect. He would let his father sleep in the woodshed, clothe him in rags and feed him stale bread.


This same man had a young son who was very smart. When he grew, he saw his elderly grandfather living in the woodshed dressed in rags. The son did not want to treat his father with disrespect and tell him, “This is no way to treat your father.” What did he do? He used his head. One day, making believe he was ignorant, he asked his father, “Who is that man living in the woodshed dressed in rags?” His father answered, “that is my father, your grandfather.” The boy did not respond.


The next day, the boy went around the house collecting all the old rags that he could find, and he put them together with many fine and expensive articles. He locked the closet door and took the key. When his father heard what the boy had done, he was furious. “What did you do,” he shouted, “why did you put all those old rags with all our fine items?” “ All that I did was for your honor, father,” said the boy.  When you get older and when you live in the woodshed, I do not want you to have to go searching for rags. Now you will know where to find them.”


The father understood his son’s lesson and immediately brought his old father from the woodshed, dressed him in fine clothing and announced: My old father will always be dressed in the finest clothing and fed well. He will always sit at the head of the table and live in the best room in my home.” And that is what happened. (From “Folktales of Israel’s Communities” p. 28. This folktale is from Syria.)

To read last year's Table Talk click here.


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