Honoring Parents and Eretz Yisrael
Rav Moshe Davis
In memory of her sister-in-law, Helen Fuchs z”l
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Honoring Parents and Eretz Yisrael
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"כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר ד' אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ"
Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the Land that the Lord, your God, is giving you.
[Shemot (Exodus) 20:12]
"למען יאריכון ימיך על האדמה- ולא בגולה ולא בתושבות."
“In order that your days be lengthened on the Land” – and not in the lands to which you are exile, nor the places you choose to live outside the Land.
What is the Connection?
The Mechiltaunderstands the posuk (verse) to exclude two venues where length of days is not the reward for honoring parents: the lands in which Israel is forcibly exiled and those outside Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) in which Israelites dwell voluntarily. (Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman’s commentary on Mechilta.)
The mitzva of honoring parents conveys a great value, which should be basic to every Israelite and to every person in the world: expression of appreciation to those who brought one into the world, as here are three partners in a person’s creation: The Holy one, blessed be He, the father and the mother. [Gemara Nidda 31a] In addition to being owed a debt of gratitude for bringing their child into the world, there is a debt of gratitude due for the investment of time and effort in raising the child with generous love. It is certainly appropriate that proper honoring of one’s parents be rewarded greatly by God Who commanded the mitzvawhich is basic to all human society.
It certainly seems appropriate that this universal mitzva, which arises from appreciation of the value of bringing new life into the world, be rewarded with length of days; but why did the Torah limit length of days to Israelites within Eretz Yisrael? Why is the mitzva of honoring one’s parents different from that of sending away the sending away the mother bird, where the Torah states generally: "שלח תשלח את האם ואת הבנים תקח לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים" (“You shall send away the mother, and [then] you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days,”) [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:7] without reference to the Land? Why is the reward for sending away the mother bird not conditioned upon residence within the Land?
First Answer – The Mitzvaof Honoring Parents is a Divine Command
It is well known that in addition to social mitzvot, the Torah commanded us as well with Divine mitzvot, whose purpose is to sanctify us and to allow us to achieve a higher spiritual level and greater purity, as the Torah commanded: "ואנשי קודש תהיון לי" (“And you shall be holy people to Me”) [Exodus 22:30] In some sense, these mitzvot are on a higher level than social mitzvot, since the latter are intended to regulate the social compact, not to improve the spiritual status of the world or enlighten the world with God’s illumination, which is the purpose of the former.
The Torah divided the Ten Commandments into five which present Divine mitzvot and five which are social mitzvot, as noted by ibn Ezra [Shemot 20:1], Ramban [ibid.,13] and other commentaries. Surprisingly, the Torah presents the mitzvaof honoring parents as the fifth of the Divine mitzvot. Why is this? Shouldn’t this mitzva be in the category of social mitzvot? Ramban explains that the message of the Torah is that honoring one’s parents is essentially honoring God.
The intent of Ramban’s comment is that a child’s parents are junior partners of God in the creation of life, while God is the true Creator, who provides the child’s life and soul. In essence, what the parents did was the equivalent of planting a seed in the ground, as in Kuzari’s parable [3:27], and it is Divine power which is capable of transforming the seed into something truly different, into a living and breathing being. Thus, one who honors his parents all the more so honors his God.
We can now understand that honoring parents is a Divine mitzva and it is appropriate that the reward be realized in God’s Land and with His people, namely, Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel).
Second Answer – Recognizing One’s Personal Roots Leads to Recognizing National Roots
One who honors his parents has the humility to understand that the world did not begin with him. In truth, we are merely as dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants, with the previous generations having built towers of Torah and of faith and imbued Am Yisrael with positive qualities of generosity and sanctity. This is the meaning of the posuk: "הביטו אל צור חוצבתם ואל מקבת בור נוקרתם, הביטו אל אברהם אביכם ואל שרה תחוללכם" (“Look at the rock whence you were hewn and at the hole of the pit whence you were dug. Look at Abraham your father and at Sarah who bore you,”) [Isaiah 51:1-2] and the source of Rava’s homily: "כל מי שיש בו שלש מידות הללו בידוע שהוא מזרעו של אברהם: רחמן, ביישן וגומל חסדים" (“Whoever has these three traits is known to be a descendant of Abraham: merciful, modest and benevolent”) [Tractate Kalla 9:6].
One who honors his parents will honor his grand-parents and all previous generations as well. One can respect a person even after his death, by not speaking of him disparagingly, by respecting his teachings and in realizing that the earlier generations were much greater than we. Of this the Gemara (Talmud) states: "לבן של ראשונים כפתחו של אולם, ושל אחרונים כפתחו של היכל - ואנו כמלא נקב מחט סידקית" (“The hearts of the of the ancients were like the door of the Ulam,(the entrance to the Temple, which was twenty cubits wide) but that of the last generations was like the door of the Hechal, (the entrance to the Holy of Holies, which was only ten cubits wide) but ours is like the eye of a fine needle”) [Eruvin53a]. Such a person is aware of his place in the world, understanding that he is merely a small part of it, with numerous generations having proceeded him and likely many to follow. This outlook, recognizing history and reflecting on the great forces which influence our limited existence, brings one to recognize the true historical connection between the Nation and the Land of Israel.
God created the world, and when it suited Him, he gave control of the Land to the Canaanites, until Am Yisrael entered the Land, which He then gave to us eternally. [See Rashi’s opening comment on Chumash.] Since then, a period of approximately 3300 years, the Land has never been devoid of Jews. Rambam notes the impossibility of the Land having no Jews: "אילו אפשר דרך משל שבני ארץ ישראל יעדרו מארץ ישראל, חלילה לאל מעשות זאת כי הוא הבטיח שלא ימחה אותות האומה מכל וכל" (“If it were possible that the Children of Israel will be completely absent from the Land of Israel, God forbid that the Lord would do this, for He has already promised that He will never completely wipe out or uproot the Jewish nation,”) then there would be no possibility of calculating the months or declaring leap years. [Sefer haMitzvot, Positive Mitzva 153] Indeed, throughout Israel’s Diaspora experience the nation prayed "ותחזינה עינינו בשובך לציון ברחמים" (“Let our eyes see Your merciful return to Zion,”) and hoped for and anticipated God’s impending salvation.
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes [commentary on Shemot 20:12] that honoring ones parents is a necessary condition for Am Yisrael to be able to remain within Eretz Yisrael. This is so because recognition of one’s personal roots will lead to recognition of the national roots, which are cast deep within the Land of Israel. This connects the reward for honoring one’s parents of length of days specifically to Eretz Yisrael; it is not simply a matter of the individual’s length of days, but that of the entire nation.
We saw two reasons the Torah connects the reward for honoring parents specifically to dwelling within the Land:
1. Honoring parents is a Divine mitzva, therefore each individual’s reward is expressed specifically in God’s Land and within His nation.
2. Honoring parents stems from recognizing one’s roots and Am Yisrael’s national roots have been in the Land since time immemorial, and the nation’s attitude and yearning for the Land have not changed and will not change throughout the generations.
Thus, the Torah teaches that the reward for honoring parents is length of days specifically in the Land of Israel.
Human History and Divine History
Typically, world events are discussed in terms of wars, of the creation of nations and the disappearance of others, conquest of lands and other human events which seem to have occurred without the guiding Hand of God; this is called “history.” Rabbi Yosef Badiḥi often discussed Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook’s broad understanding of the annals of the Am Yisrael and of other nations, as his father, Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak Kook z”tl had already presented which sees a Divine plan in world events. The Rabbis Kook referred to their approach as “Divine His-story.” (The Rabbis Kook changed a single letter in the accepted Hebrew spelling of the word “history,” replacing the letter “tet” with a “tav,” so the word can be read as “God’s hiddenness”: that is God’s hidden intervention in world events.)
His-story and Eretz Yisrael
Yiftacḥ, one of the judges, whom Chazal (our Sages) refer to as “One of the three lightest of the world” [Gemara Rosh haShana 25b] and one of the most minor of Am Yisrael’s leaders is nonetheless considered a knight among knights because of his forceful answers to the king of Amon, who wanted to battle against Israel, as Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu notes. Yiftacḥ initially presented the true His-story of Am Yisrael’s connection to the Land, [Shoftim (Judges) 11:15-22] adding, as Malbim elucidates “Israel’s war at that time was a Divine matter, and all the nations knew that God had chased them out,” asking the king of Amon how he could expect God to backtrack and give him the Land He had presented to Israel? Rabbi Eliyahu adds that Israel’s wars in recent generations, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and others, are also miraculous, a fact to which soldiers themselves attested. The miracles God has performed for us are so the Land will remain in our hands.
May it be His will that we internalize the His-story of the Nation and Land of Israel, appreciating the living connection between our nation and our Land.
 רמב"ן שמות פרק כ' פסוק יג: "והנה עשרת הדברות חמשה בכבוד הבורא וחמשה לטבת האדם, כי כבד את אביך (ואמך) כבוד האל, כי לכבוד הבורא צוה לכבד האב (והאם) המשתתף ביצירה, ונשארו חמשה לאדם בצרכו וטובתו."