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Kedoshim 57782 ~ May 6, 2022

How to be kadosh, reverent to God, to people and to life itself is the theme of this week’s Torah portion. There are many significant scenarios in life which are presented on how to be a good neighbor, a reliable and honest business person, and how to sense that one has lived a true ethical existence. It reminds judges not to pervert justice, giving preference to the poor or the rich, but doing what is morally and ethically right based on the law itself.

There is one element of being kadosh that is spelled out in two different ways in our reading, and that is honor and respect for parents. The first, as the Torah reading opens and instructs us to be kadosh, holy: “You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep My sabbaths: I Adonai am your God.”

When one reads the verse in Hebrew, one understands that revere is conceptualized by the word yirah, which reflects both a love and respect in the same manner in which one is reverent to God.  And, strangely, the question might be asked: Does one respect or revere a parent solely because of the ending of the statement, “because I am Adonai,” solely because it is a command of God? Or is it a duty for a child to revere a parent out of that which a parent has provided for a child, hopefully love and nurturing, rather than out of a love through fear or tolerance. The second half of the statement is related to Shabbat observance and if one reads the verse as one complete concept, then perhaps it is suggesting that  through spending time with family on Shabbat, one is capable of appreciating an understanding of what meaningful family moments are all about and a respect of parents for who they are. Perhaps it might be the discussion around the table, or understanding the joys and the challenges that they experience in life itself or the successes or challenges experienced at work. And from grasping the reality of one’s parent’s life, once can gain an appreciation for who he or she is as a parent.

The second concept is an entirely different nuance:  “If anyone insults either father or mother, that person shall be put to death; that person has insulted father and mother—and retains the bloodguilt.” (Leviticus 20:9)  One might find this admonition to be opposite of the first - of reverence. What if one does not have an unbelievably loving and caring relationship with one’s parents. What if the parent was abusive or simply was an absent parent, either literally or in how he or she parented? Or perhaps over the years, the relationship suffered, not due to the parent, but due to the child? Often I read in the Dear Abby section of parents or children who are having difficulties with each other. Or perhaps parent and child have a different understanding of view of life, the world, and in today’s reality – politics and ethics. 

Is it these situations where a child needs to be reminded of not insulting a parent?

The medieval commentary, Rashi, sees that in the original Hebrew we find that there is a double mention of the word “ish, “individual” in the verse:  “ki ish, ish, asher yikalel,” “when an individual, individual insults his/her father or mother….” Rashi asks, “Why is the “ish,” individual stated twice?”  

Rashi  turns to the Talmud in Sanhedrin and finds the rabbis discussing the precise moment when a child might denigrate his or her parent. Rashi’s comment is hopefully not too often a reality in the words of children: “These apparently redundant words are intended to include as subject to the death penalty one who curses his parents after their death (Sanhedrin 85b).”  In truth, it is not only an admonition to children. As many of us have gleaned through the teaching of our tradition, except with the most heinous of individuals, always try something positive to say about an individual following their death.

Perhaps the Torah might be asking parents to be somewhat realistic, as well. As parents, we must recognize and accept when we have been less than the ideal parent and accept that reality, as well. For many of us, at our stages of life, there is no do over. And we can only hope that with all of the love we have given our children, all of the efforts and all of the heartache, that our children will love of us for who we are and the effort we have put in to be the best parent we can be.

And in that regard, while we wish everyone a Shabbat Shalom, to the mothers in our community, we wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day.

Sun, May 28 2023 8 Sivan 5783