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Torah Sparks

January 25, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Exodus 18:1 - 20:23 (Hertz, p. 288; Etz Hayim, p. 432)
Triennial Cycle II: Exodus 19:1 - 20:23 (Hertz, p. 290; Etz Hayim, p. 436)
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1-13; 7:1-6; 9:5-6 (Hertz, p. 302; Etz Hayim, p. 452)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(18:1-12) Moses' father-in-law Jethro comes to visit, bringing Moses' wife Zipporah and his two sons.

(18:12-27) Jethro advises Moses to appoint officers and judges to help him lead the people, creating the political structure for living by the Torah.

(19:1-6) The people prepare to accept the covenant and receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, where they will become a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation."

(19:7-15) Moses tells the elders to prepare the people to receive the revelation.

(19:16-25) Dramatic phenomena accompany God's manifestation at Mount Sinai. Moses ascends the mountain.

(20:1-14) The Ten Commandments.

(20:15-18) The people are terrified by God's power, and they beg Moses to mediate between them and God.

(20:19-23) More commandments concerning the altar.

Discussion Theme: Parental Honor and Society

"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)

  1. The obligation to respect is enjoined only for God and parents, and the offender in either instance is liable to the extreme penalty. The parallels point up the supreme importance that the Torah assigns to the integrity of the family for the sake of the stability of society and generational continuity. Family life is the bedrock on which Jewish society stands." (Nachum Sarna)
  2. Speaking halachically, the key to putting oneself together in respect to the whole creation hangs on regard for one's own parents. The Halakhah (Kiddushin 30b) speaks in terms of three pillars: God and the two parents are partners in the source of the life of the child. The parent mirrors the creation of the universe; she reflects a concept of life in which one recognizes that to be is to be related to that which is other than self and to discover existence outside of one's ego. To be is to find transcendence. In other words, to be is to know that I am who I am because others enter into my "I" ness." (Rabbi David Hartman, "The Family As Mirroring Theological Commitment")
  3. The aim of this mitzvah is for a man to recognize and bestow kindness upon one who has done him good and that he not be base, a dissimulator, and one who denies the good done him by another... It is for a person to realize that his father and mother are the cause of his being in the world; hence in very truth it is proper for him to give them every honor and every benefit that he can." (Sefer Hachinuch)
  4. The father endows the child with five virtues: beauty, strength, riches, wisdom, and longevity... And just as the father has granted the child these five gifts, so does the child owe him five things: to feed, provide drink, clothe, placing shoes upon them, and guide. (Talmud Yerushalm, Kiddushin 16a)
  5. Any stable society, and certainly any ethical one fashioned upon the principles of justice, morality, and the protection of inalienable rights, just rest upon a staunch and firm respect for authority and authoritative figures. At the very least, such institutions maintain order and protect society from sinking into an oblivion of chaos and anarchy... As submission to authority is indeed unnatural, this property must be acquired, inculcated at a young age. Kibbud Av Va-eim tutors children in the art and necessity of accepting another's authority... The household provides a school for the education of this habit, and hence the home forms the cornerstone of society." (Rabbi Moshe Taragin, "The Aims and Attitudes Surrounding the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av Va-eim")

Sparks for Reflection

In what ways is the family the crucible from which attitudes towards society emerge? What fundamental concepts or habits does the mitzvah of "kibbud av va-eim" teach?

Did children honor their parents more in the past? If so, in what ways?

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