The commandment to honor your parents is one of the Ten Commandments. The verse states (Exodus 20:12), “Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the L‑rd, your G‑d, is giving you.”
The basis for the commandment tohonor our parents might be seen as rational and reasonable, since it would only seem right to acknowledge all that our parents gave us. However, ultimately, we honor our parents because G‑d commands us to; so even if it seems like an attitude of respect doesn’t apply in our situation, we should still show respect.1
However, the sages do discuss several reasons for the commandment to honor your parents:
- Parents are partners with G‑d in the creation of a child; therefore, respecting your parents is also respecting G‑d, the ultimate Creator.2
- Honoring your parents expresses thankfulness to those who brought you into this world.3 Just like you should be grateful to someone who does you a favor, so too, you should be grateful to your parents, who are the only reason you are here in this world to begin with.4
Others note that an integral part of this commandment is respect for your parents’ heritage and their knowledge, to the point that you rely on it; for that is the way that an understanding of our world is passed down through the generations.5 Our current existence is not formed in a vacuum, separate from the worlds of our parents, their parents and so on; rather, we are all one continuous chain of existence.6
Two Types of Commandments
It is interesting to note the difference between the first two reasons mentioned above.
The commandments in general, and specifically the Ten Commandments, can be divided into two categories:
- Between man and G‑d.
- Between man and man.
When it comes to commandments that deal with issues between man and G‑d, when we return to G‑d and resolve to do what is correct, G‑d forgives. However, when it comes to transgressing a commandment that deals with another person, returning to G‑d does not help, and we need to turn to the other person to request forgiveness.7
According to the first explanation above, honoring your parents falls into the category of a commandment between man and G‑d.8 The implication is that it would be enough to just return to G‑d should one transgress the commandment.
However, most commentators include the commandment of honoring your parents in the list of commandments between man and man;9 therefore, should you transgress, you would need to ask for forgiveness from your parents too.10
If one has an abusive parent, one should contact a competent rabbi to discuss the details.
See the Jerusalem Talmud, Peah 4a, ch. 1:1.
Sefer Ha-Chinuch (published anonymously in the 13th century) ch. 33.
Sefer Ha-Chinuch, ibid.
Mishnah, Yumah 8:9; The Code of Jewish Law, Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 606:1.
As Nachmanides explains, ibid., that the Ten Commandments are divided into the two categories. The first five are between man and G d, and the second five are between man and man. This division would place respecting parents in the category of a commandment between man and G d.
See also Maimonides’ Pirush Hamishnayot on Peah, ibid.
See Encyclopedia Talmudit vol. 26, p. 374.