Shalom Bayit - Honoring Our Parents

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his                                                               neshama. 
Elisheva Maline

When a baby bird wakes up to an awareness of its surroundings, anthropomorphically, something in it cries out for expansion. It feels suffocated and instinctively chips its way out to the fresh air, sunlight and freedom. 

Now, the nest isn't much bigger but it is the landing pad from which the baby can learn new things like eating and flying. Then, when it's ready, it can hop out, spread its wings and take off. 

Of course, the process doesn't happen one two three; it needs time and reinforcement on the parent's part to teach that baby how to fly.  

Interestingly enough, we can learn about the concept of nature vs. nurture with regard to people through the development of birds from the egg to the nest and onward. Both birds and people are born with an instinct for movement (to be more precise on the part of humanity: growth) whether it be by wing or foot. This is the nature side of the equation. Also, both are the same in that neither can move on to the next stage in life without the help of a parent. This is why a mother bird must reinforce the skill of flight to her chick. And so it goes for a human parent who also requires time to teach her toddler to develop his ability to crawl and walk. This is the nurture side of the equation. The only difference between the two is that animals' decisions are based in instinct and therefore, aren't actually decisions while humans must choose: will I be a good parent or will I not? 

"Many years of research has proved that while certain instincts (such as breathing, sleeping and walking) were given to us at birth, it takes exercising and motivation by parents to help babies reach their full potential of instinct. This idea, the nurture half of the argument, is where people argue that it is the responsibility of the parent to teach these children how to walk or eat properly. Similar to humans, birds are born with this same instinct, mainly for the action of flight. Now no bird is born with the ability to fly because it takes practice. Rather birds are trained by their parents through the power of reinforcement" (Nature vs Nurture: How do baby birds learn how to fly?).

The best kinds of parents, the human kind, that is, are the ones who enable their children spiritually, such as by exposing them to G-d's presence in this world, or by enrolling them in institutions that teach about their heritage and religion etc. Good parents also enable their children physically, whether it be by making them wholesome meals or shuttling them to routine checkups at the doctor/ dentist etc., mentally and emotionally by seeing to their individual needs, and financially by helping them figure out what they want to do long term so they can support families of their own. 

Bottom line: the only way a parent can build his or her child into a confident adult is by holding that child's hand until s/he's ready to let go -- and fly.      

Haven't we heard this before?

This truism carries itself across the globe in any and every society. And yet, the Torah comes in to teach us something groundbreaking.

At the Sinai event Hashem (G-d) gave the Jewish nation His ten commandments and all 613 Torah laws, correct? One of those laws is the mitzvah (commandment) to honor one's parents. 

What exactly does that entail?

Since most people follow the paradigm of a give and take relationship, it shouldn't come as any surprise that when the first doesn't meet the standards of the second, the second one jumps ship. The general expectation is that parents should give and their children should take. With some luck, good behavioral exposure will get absorbed into the children's systems and then they will move on to become their children's givers. 

To this beautiful idea, the Torah says, "Now, wait just a minute."   

According to the mitzvah of Honoring One's Parents, children are commanded to give back as well. "The mitzvah (commandment) of honoring parents is all encompassing and includes our actions, our speech, our thoughts, and our feelings. It applies equally to sons and daughters, singer or married -- with some qualifications for a married woman. There is no difference between the obligation to a father and the obligation to a mother. 

[Also,] "this mitzvah never ends. As long as we are alive, we have a responsibility to our parents" (My Father, My Mother and Me by Yehudis Samet).

We have another potential issue here: what if our parents were lousy givers? 

To this, the Torah tells us that even in those [rare -- and I'm using that word facetiously] cases where our parents were not our enablers, and, to put it mildly, in some ways, they were quite the opposite, we must remember that there is "an eye that sees, an ear that hears..." (Pirkei Avot 2:1). What this means is that G-d is running the world, Not only that but Judaism teaches that G-d is very much involved in the nitty gritty of our every day lives. Knowing this, we can declare that our parents [were and] are our greatest teachers, the ones who enabled us to grow to our fullest potential whether is was via painful means or otherwise. For that reason, aside from the fact that G-d commanded it, we owe them everything (and we can give them everything within the framework of halacha (Torah law), as well as from within the context one can give functionally to his parents).

And if you feel like your parent(s) didn't give you what you needed, be that person for someone else. 

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