with Rav Avigdor Miller
Honor Thy Parents
Part I. Honoring Them
Understanding The Fundamentals
In Mesichta Kiddushin (31a) the gemara asks a very important question that applies to all of us here: עַד הֵיכָן כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם – How far does a child have to extend himself in the matter of kibud av v’eim? And it’s an important question because when we read the Aseres Hadibros in this week’s parsha we see that it’s number five on the list – it means that it’s one of the fundamental principles of the Torah. And so we’re going to listen now to the words of Chazal to understand, ad heichan, how far a good Jew has to go in order to fulfill the mitzvah of respecting his father and mother.
The Gemara answers like this: צְאוּ וּרְאוּ מַה עָשָׂה גּוֹי אֶחָד בְּאַשְׁקְלוֹן – Go out and see what a certain person once did, וְדָמָא בֶּן נְתִינָה שְׁמוֹ – his name was Dama ben Nesina. What did he do? Once, the chachamim needed certain rare stones for the vestments of the Kohen Gadol. And so they came to the house of Dama ben Nesina – he was a certain gentile who traded in precious jewels – and they offered him a lot of money for the gems they needed.
The Gemara says that he would have made a profit of six hundred thousand gold dinarim! That’s one opinion – another sage says it was a profit of eight hundred thousand gold coins! So when they made their offer he went right away to the back room where the key to the jewel chest was hidden – for such money you want to close the deal right away – and he found his father sleeping and under his pillow was the key!
So he tapped his father on the shoulder and he said, “Pa! Get up please. Emergency! I need the key!” No, no, he didn’t do that. The Gemara says that Dama ben Nesina tiptoed out to where the chachomim were waiting with the bags of money and he said, “I’m sorry. I can’t do any business with you right now.” He didn’t know how long his father would be resting there, and he wasn’t going to disturb him. “I can’t help you,” he said and the chachamim went away. They went to look elsewhere.
Now, that was a loss of a tremendous sum of money. It was a very big business deal that Dama ben Nesina gave away for the sake of kibud av. You don’t have to worry about him, though. The Gemara tells us that Hakodosh Boruch Hu repaid him. The following year, Hakodosh Boruch Hu caused a perfectly red cow to be born in his herd – a parah adumah temimah! Now, that is worth a fortune of money!
And this time, when the chachamim came, his father wasn’t sleeping on the cow! And so, Dama sold them the parah adumah and he made up for what he had lost the previous year – with interest! He didn’t lose out! Hakodosh Boruch Hu made sure of that.
Learning From Our Great Men
It’s a remarkable Gemara – a remarkable story about a remarkable gentile. But for us, a big question arises: When we want to learn the Torah of kibud av v’eim, do we have to go to a gentile?! Don’t we have our own great men who fulfilled this mitzvah?!
The Gemara in Kiddushin there brings other stories too. It says that Rabbi Tarfon had an elderly mother who whenever she needed to climb into bed he would bend down onto the floor so she could step on his back. He didn’t bring a stool for her – he leaned over so that she could use him as a stool. And when she got out of bed, the same thing.
Tosfos there brings another story about Rabbi Tarfon, that once when his mother left her slippers outside and she insisted on going out and finding them on her own, Rabbi Tarfon put his hands down on the ground so that she would walk on his hands and not get her feet dirty!
So we have stories too! Why do we need to look at Dama ben Nesina for our inspiration?! We need to look outside?! Where else do we find an example from gentiles how to perform a mitzvah of the Torah?!
The Torah of Common Sense
And so we’re beginning to see now that the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim is not a matter of Torah. It’s in the Torah – oh yes! Not just in the Torah – it’s in the Aseres Hadibros! But still, it’s a matter of human nature; it’s expected to be the common sense reaction of all human beings! Gratitude! Even a gentile should know what that means! Only an ingrate, a person whose neshama is so sullied with conceit that he can’t recognize the good that his parents have done with him, wouldn’t understand that.
Even if all our parents had done for us was to bring us into this world, that itself is a happiness. It’s fun to be alive! That’s a very great truth! Unfortunately people don’t want to talk about it, but the mere fact that you’re sitting and breathing is a great happiness. Your heart is pumping away and your blood is circulating through all of your arteries and veins. Your lungs are expanding and contracting constantly; everything is working perfectly. There’s nothing like the great happiness of being alive in this world! And it’s your parents who gave you that happiness.
Life And So Much More
Therefore, as long as we have it we’re expected to respond properly, with the greatest gratitude. Don’t say, “Who asked them to bring me into this world?” You should never fall into that wicked attitude of asking such a question; it’s based on selfishness, on a failure to think. I’ll prove it to you – if someone told you that you had a fatal illness, chas v’shalom, and a certain doctor could save you, you’d run to the doctor. You wouldn’t wait a second! Because you really like being alive and you want to enjoy the thrill as long as possible. And therefore, just because of that, just because of the life that your parents gave you, you owe them a gratitude of respect to no end.
But that’s only the beginning. Your parents fed you too. They could have said, “Look, we gave you life. Take care of yourself from now on. Go look for food yourself. Scrounge. You can’t afford a grocery store? So go someplace in the country. Maybe you’ll find wild berries to eat; there’s grass that’s edible too. I gave you life; I have to support you too?” But your parents didn’t abandon you in the woods – not only did they bring you into this sweet world, but they brought you up. They gave you whatever you needed for so many years.
Gratitude towards parents is a matter of common sense! And so the Gemara comes to teach us how much common sense is expected of us – that even to this extreme, the great sacrifice that Dama ben Nesina made, that’s also included in the seichel hanatua b’leiv ha’adam, the common sense that a human being naturally has. Certainly you have to lose a tremendous amount of money in order not to wake up your father! What’s the question?! Even a gentile’s seichel knows that! And that’s what Dama ben Nesina came along to teach us – that gratitude, respect and loyalty towards our parents is expected al pi svara, common sense, even if there was no Torah.
A Vast Obligation
Now, the question is, why did Hakodosh Boruch Hu put something that’s common sense into the Torah? Why did He have to announce from Har Sinai, with such great fanfare, “Honor your father and your mother? לָמָּה לִי קְרָא סְבָרָא הוּא – Why do we need a possuk to teach us something that we can figure out on our own? (Kesuvos 22a).
The answer is this, Hakodosh Boruch Hu says, “Common sense is good, but I can’t rely on it. I want you to understand how vast is the obligation of gratitude and that’s why I’m putting it into the aseres hadibros; that’s why I’m writing it on the luchos with the etzba Elokim. I’m telling you now that it’s much more than common sense – now it’s the d’var Hashem!”
All of a sudden, a new mitzvah has been given to you, no less than putting on tefillin, no less than the mitzvah of mezuzah. When a person listens to his parents who ask him to do this or to do that, he’s becoming rich in the most important achievement – he’s becoming wealthy in mitzvos! When your mother tells you, “Chaim, carry the garbage outside to the street,” it’s a glorious opportunity. It’s much more than the common sense of Dama ben Nesina; now it’s the mind of Hakodosh Boruch Hu you’re listening to. It’s a mitzvah d’oraysa not less than tefillin. If I would tell you to do something, it’s no mitzvah. But if your father or mother tells you, it’s a tremendous mitzvah! A tremendous opportunity!
Now, the truth is that today, just to do the mitzvah because of common sense is already a great accomplishment. Society today is so broken down that common sense has gone lost; the elementary principle of gratitude now requires intense study.
A child who grows up in a house where from the beginning his parents fed and clothed him and housed him, does it enter his mind to feel gratitude to his parents? No – it could be he will never think about that all his life. He will never look back with gratitude to the fact that his father paid rent for him. It didn’t occur to him that if he didn’t exist, the apartment could have been smaller and cost less rent; or that it costs good money to feed a child. He thinks he was doing his mother a favor. She begged him to eat; she got on her knees and said, “Please, Chaim’l, eat.” And when he condescended to eat, he was the one doing the favor to her. He doesn’t look back with gratitude on all those years that his mother spoon-fed him and surely when she nursed him.
If a frum Jew today would stand up and say, “I value my parents and will honor them; I appreciate that they gave me life and clothing and love and shelter,” the world would look at him like he fell off the moon.
Once upon a time, maybe, people’s minds were capable of having some common sense. When the world didn’t have any newspapers – when there was no literature to corrupt the minds of men – so it was possible for a person to think on his own and to have common sense.
A Spoiled Generation
But today, we are a ruined generation of spoiled children; adults too – we’re spoiled. People who are surfeited with gashmiyus, their characters are ruined and they forget the fundamentals of gratitude. And therefore, it’s only ingratitude, plain ingratitude, that leads to the world rebelling today against parents. Today, American boys and girls say to their parents, “Who told you to bring me into the world? Now you have to support me and buy me a car and give me money for narcotics and every kind of wicked fun that I want to have.” The Jewish boys don’t say it, but they think it. And their parents are dumb enough to do it for them because even the parents have no common sense today.
And therefore, anyone today who will buck the tide and say, “I honor my parents because I owe them my life,” he’s already a great man! But suppose he goes a step further and remembers that Hashem put it into the luchos, that it’s a possuk in the Aseres Hadibros? Ooooh, wah! Now he’s already an eved Hashem. Instead of doing it by habit, he says “I’m taking out the garbage now to fulfill the mitzvah d’oraysah of kibud av v’eim.” Now, it’s a form of avodas Hashem.
Here’s a man — a man in our shul — who in the morning, after the prayers, he stops in the grocery store and does some shopping to save his parents the work. And when he drops by to give them what he bought, he stops outside the door before he comes in and he puts a smile on his face for his parents. He’s serving Hashem now so he prepares himself first. And then he greets his father and his mother with a sever panim yafos and he speaks some kind words, as a loyal and polite son does. When they ask him to do something, he jots it down in his memo book and then he makes sure to fulfill it during the day. This man is a tzaddik — he understands what this mitzvah means. He knows what Hakodosh Boruch Hu expects from him.
Part II. Honoring Him
Let’s Go Furniture Shopping
And that’s why the seforim tell us that you should honor your parents like you honor the most important people. That’s what the seforim say (Chayei Adam 67:3); your parents should be in your eyes k’gedolei ha’aretz, like great aristocrats of nobility.When your mother calls you up on the telephone to say she’s coming to visit, it’s like the Duke of Windsor is coming to visit you!
Suppose the Mayor was visiting your house. Today the Mayor is not a very important personality, but imagine a very important person was coming to visit. You’d go all out! You’d put on your best suit; you’d do everything in your power to honor him. Suppose the President was visiting your house? You wouldn’t know what to do! You’d buy new clothing for everybody in the house – no question about it! You might even buy new furniture!
You should know that for your parents you have to do even more. Of course, they don’t expect that; it’s too expensive to do such a thing that every time your parents visit you’ll go out and buy new furniture; and your parents would stop visiting – they’d feel bad for you. But that’s how you should regard them. When they come, you should think about that – “It’s really what I should have done.”
The Crowd Changes
Now once upon a time, I never spoke on this subject. Because once, the people who came here had parents who were not shomrei mitzvos. Most of the people came from not frum families and I didn’t want to stress kibud av because if they’ll obey their parents, who knows what their parents will tell them to do? So I kept quiet; I never spoke on this subject at length. But now, boruch Hashem, I know you have parents who are tzaddikim, shlomei emunei Yisroel, and I can talk with confidence, lefi amitah shel Torah, about what’s expected of us.
If you have a frum father and a frum mother, you have a lot of homework to do – a great deal of work. It doesn’t matter that your parents are not rich or that they were never in the headlines of the newspaper. Even how much torah your father learned is not what matters. Maybe you think your parents are not as learned as you are; they’re not bnei Torah. No matter! They’re your parents. They brought you into the world; they did everything for you. And so we look at them and admire them; a frum father, a frum mother, is more than a duke, more than a king! All the honor you could give them, that’s what you have to do — and it’s not enough.
King Of All Honor
Now, the Chovos Halvovos (Shaar Avodas Elokim) says that one of the conditions for a loyal servant of Hashem is לְכַבְּדוֹ לְבַדּוֹ – You must honor Hashem alone. All your thoughts should be dedicated to the principle: Kovod Shomayaim! What can I do to elevate the honor of Hashem in the world? How can I make people realize Hashem is the Melech? How can I encourage people to give all glory only to Him?
Hakodosh Boruch Hu is called Melech HaKovod – the King of Honor, and the Mesillas Yesharim explains that all kovod in the world belongs only to Hashem – to give honor to anything or anyone except Hakodosh Boruch Hu is robbery because He is the Melech HaKovod!
And yet we’re talking now about something that seems to be a contradiction to that: כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ – You have to honor your father and mother; it’s singled out in the Aseres Hadibros for special mention! And not only to honor; we see you have to go all out for them! We have to treat them like royalty. And so we should ask, what happened to l’chabdo l’vado? What happened to honoring Him and only Him?
Climbing The Ladder
So the Chovos Halvovos tells us that kibud av v’eim is an important part of l’chabdo l’vado. By honoring your parents, you’re building a ladder; and it’s a ladder that brings you up to Hashem. It’s a סֻלָּם מֻצָּב אַרְצָה – a ladder standing on the ground, וְרֹאשׁוֹ מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמָיְמָה – and the top of that ladder goes all the way up to the honor of Hashem.
Only how do you get to the top of the ladder? You don’t fly. You’re still on the ground and the first step is to pick up your foot and put it on the ladder of gratitude. The middah of gratefulness, of appreciating what you have and feeling indebted to your benefactors, is a way of thinking that must be cultivated and nurtured in us.
The First Rung
So you begin first with your parents. You’re a little boy now and you’re starting to climb. You bring your father a cup of water when he’s thirsty; “Pa, here’s a cup of cold water for you.” But not just that you do it with an empty head; no, you’re thinking, “מָה אָשִׁיב – How can I repay you Father, כָּל תַּגְמוּלוֹהִי עָלָי – for all that you’ve done for me. At least let me bring you a cup of water.” You take out the garbage when your mother asks. You offer to set the table instead of your mother serving you. “Ma, you sit down. I’ll bring the milk to the table.”
Now, in the beginning, it’s only your parents you’re honoring; you’re not thinking anything more than that. But after a while you get more intelligent. If you have the sense, even when you’re a little boy, a bochur, you begin to think: “My parents love me so much; they do so much for me. But where did my father get the instinct to have pity on me? Where does my mother get the maternal love for her children?”
Hormones And Instincts
It’s a good question. Why does a mother protect her baby with so much care? Why does she devote her life to her children? The answer is that it’s a gift from Hakodosh Boruch Hu – He’s the real mother. That’s the plain truth – it’s Hashem standing behind the curtain. When a woman becomes pregnant, at that time the milk glands start developing in preparation for her future child. And at the same time, the hormones of “mother love” begin to develop. It’s a chemical reaction that Hashem has placed inside her and she begins loving her child. Even a mother cow loves her calves, but a human mother loves much more; and it’s Hakodosh Boruch Hu who implanted in the mother the love of the child.
Now of course, the mother gets reward because she takes this instinct and she utilizes it. She doesn’t stifle it so that she could get more sleep. She develops that instinct and becomes great because of that, absolutely. She lives up to that instinct and she serves Hakodosh Boruch Hu by loving her children and caring for her children.
The father builds on his instinct too. The father goes out to work in the fields and he’s raising crops and food to feed his children. He goes into the office and he works long hours so that he can pay the rent and the schar limud. Why is it that your father cares for you? Why doesn’t your father buy shoes for the children next door? Why doesn’t he buy toys for the children next door? Why does he do it for you? There’s an instinct in him that Hashem put into a father – to love his children. “Oh!” you think. “So it’s Hashem who encouraged my father to act fatherly to me! Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the one who motivated him.”
Are You My Mother?
There’s no father and mother except Hashem. כִּי אָבִי וְאִמִּי עֲזָבוּנִי וֲהַשֵּׁם יַאַסְפֵנִי – It’s Hashem who gathered me up in His arms, מַבְטִיחִי עַל שְׁדֵי אִמִּי – He is the one who gives me security on the breasts of my mother. Hashem is the father and the mother – fundamentally, every Jew must realize that it’s only Hashem who is his Benefactor.
Of course, your parents did all the work. They even brought you into this world, so in a certain sense they are a semblance, a mashal, of the Borei. They are shluchim, messengers of Hashem. And that’s why they deserve so much kavod; they’re shluchei d’Rachmana after all – but the real kibud av v’eim means that we’re also thinking about Hashem. We can never forget about the One who sent them on their shlichus.
The Frum Boy Jumps High
So now, along comes a boy and he says, “Rabbi Miller says that honoring your parents is only a ladder to Hashem. Who needs ladders?” This boy is all ready to skip over the rungs and get down to the real business of serving Hashem. “Oh no!” says Hashem. “That’s nothing. That’s all talk; it’s empty talk, because it means you missed the whole point.” It’s impossible to feel gratitude to Hashem if you don’t feel gratitude to your father and mother. It’s easy to say the words but that’s all it is, words. And therefore we need a ladder to climb.
How do you get to the real Father? If somebody doesn’t say thank you when his mother serves him supper, and then after supper this frum boy starts saying birchas hamazon, then he’s not really thanking Hashem. It doesn’t matter how long his bentching is, he’s not thanking Hashem. If you can’t thank your mother who you see with your own eyes – you see that she’s slaving away in the hot kitchen; you see she’s putting the chicken on the plate for you – if you’re not overwhelmed with gratitude to her, then you’re not thanking Hashem either.
You can’t climb up unless the first rung is there. If the first rung is missing, you can’t go to the second rung. So you start with your parents and little by little you go higher and higher! Your mother is the first step on the rung. “Thank you, mother” you say when she gives you supper; then you can think about birkas hamazon. That’s higher; it’s one step higher. That’s how you climb; one step and then another and then another.
And all the time you’re doing it, it’s because Hashem commanded so – even better, you’re aware that your mother and father are messengers of Hashem. Ooh wah! That’s something! That’s much more important than the Duke of Windsor or the Baron of someplace or another. And that’s how you climb the ladder of Hashem’s service. Hukash kvodam likvod Hamakom say Chazal – honoring your parents is like honoring Hashem! (Bava Metzia 32a)
Part III. Honor Forever
Make Your Parents Faint
Now, let’s say a person hasn’t made use of this opportunity; the truth is nobody makes use of the opportunity as much as they should. Did you ever say to your father, “Father; you know, I like you”? If you’d say such a thing, your father would fall down in a faint. You never thought of such a thing?! “Father, I like you” or “Father, I love you.” You don’t even think of it!
It’s not too late. There are so many rungs to climb, so many opportunities that you still have. Once a person understands how big of a mitzvah it is intrinsically and how it’s a stepping stone to k’vod Shamayim, he’ll do whatever he can to make use of the opportunities he still has.
Pangs of Regret
Now, some people wake up when their parents are already gone. Later in life when the father is no longer around, he looks back: “Why didn’t I say that at least once to my father? Or to my mother? Why didn’t I tell my mother, ‘Ma, I love you. Thank you for taking care of me for so many years!’ At least once I could have said it!” It’s a regret; it gnaws at you. These are words that should have been said and now it’s too late. Many didn’t have sense – or they didn’t have enough sense. And even those who had the sense, but now it’s finished; the opportunity has gone away.
When the father passes away or the mother passes away, you mourn for that – not only twelve months; forever you can’t get over that. You are young people. You still have parents until a hundred and twenty years, but some of us are older and the opportunity is gone – gone forever! Never again will you hear your father tell you, “Chaim, hand me the siddur please.” Hand me the siddur?! What an opportunity! A mitzvah d’oraysa just like putting on tefillin! Or when your father says, “Chaim, keep quiet!” So you keep your mouth closed! It’s also a mitzvah d’oraysa! And now it’s gone – you look back with regret! You can’t bring them back again! It’s finished.
No, it’s not over. It’s very important to understand that when you’re sorry that you lost an opportunity to gain certain perfection, that sorrow, that regret, is also a very big zchus. I’ll explain that.
The Shabbos Nachamu Retreat
Let’s say we don’t have a Beis Hamikdash today. So we think it’s an old story already. What can we do? Of course, we sit on the floor on Tisha B’Av and we weep; we’re sad a little bit, maybe more than a little bit, but then Shabbos Nachamu comes and right away we start forgetting about it. Yes, it was a very sad day, but now we’ll go up to the county and we’ll console ourselves with fleishig meals and swimming pools and vacations. Now, I’m not going to criticize people who go away; of course you should be consoled and you should be happy but there always must be a feeling of regret. “Oh, how I wish we had the Beis Hamikdash once again.” Regret, yearning for the Mikdash is very big in the eyes of Hashem.
I’m going to tell you something that’s very valuable right now. Most people don’t understand it but every day when you finish shmoneh esrei there’s a glorious opportunity to gain a very big mitzvah. יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹקֵינוּ שֶׁיִּבָּנֶה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ בִּמְהֵרָה בְּיָמֵינוּ – Please, Hashem, bring back the Beis Hamikdash, וְשָׁם נַעֲבָדְךָ בְּיִרְאָה כִּימֵי עוֹלָם וּכְשָׁנִים קַדְמֹנִיּוֹת – and there we will serve You like in the days of old. Say it with tzaar! Not just with kavanah, with peirush hamilos; say it with regret! “I’m so sorry that I don’t have the Beis Hamikdash.”
Waiting For The Chazan
These three sentences at the end of shmoneh esrei are an opportunity. Don’t waste it! When you walk back the three steps, don’t just wait for the chazan to say kedusha. Take your time and say it with feeling! “Ah, Hakodosh Boruch Hu, if we could have that again!” Of course, it’s not sincere in the beginning; it’s only talk, but train yourself to that idea. “Ay yah yay, Ribono Shel Olam, give me a Beis Hamikdash once more.”
That’s why it’s very important for us to study the days of old to know what we once had. We look back now and we’re so sad that we don’t have the Beis Hamikdosh anymore! זָכְרָה יְרוּשָׁלִַם – Yerushalayim remembers, יְמֵי עָנְיָהּ וּמְרוּדֶיהָ – in the days of her affliction and her sadness. It means after the churban Beis Hamikdosh, she remembers, כֹּל מַחֲמֻדֶיהָ – all of her delights, אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ מִימֵי קֶדֶם – that she had in the days of old.
What We Mourn For
Once upon a time the whole Jewish nation would gather together every seventh year. הַקְהֵל אֶת הָעָם הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף – Men, women, children; everybody came together. And the melech Yisroel came out and he read from the sefer Torah sheb’azara, Moshe Rabbeinu’s sefer Torah, while everybody stood on their feet and listened; the whole Klal Yisroel. What a tremendous demonstration it was of loyalty to Hashem! The whole nation together listening to the Torah. If you could see that for one minute, you’d be a different person forever.
You can think about how we were oleh regel from all the towns in Eretz Yisroel; every yomtiv we’re walking on the road past all the villages and the villages are pouring out their men! They’re all coming out and joining us and together we’re marching to Yerushalayim! And on the road we were singing shir hamaalos; we’re singing and singing until we finally come to Yerushalayim! We were so happy with our singing, we didn’t even realize what we were doing. עֹמְדוֹת הָיוּ רַגְלֵינוּ בִּשְׁעָרַיִךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם – Our feet were standing in your gates Yerushalayim and we were still singing! We opened our eyes, “Oh, we’re in Yerushalayim already!” Oh, how we miss that!
Raising The Roof
And Yerushalayim was packed! It’s jammed with millions of Jews. Josephus lived at the end of churban bayis sheini and he records that at least two million Jews were in Yerushalayim for Pesach. Millions of Jews filled the streets. And Pesach night when they ate the korban pesach in the street, there were hundreds of thousands of stoves roasting the korban. All over the city, you could smell roasted mutton.
And when they said hallel, it was tremendous. They were on the roofs dancing. The Gemara says (Pesachim 85b) that from the sound of hallel on Pesach night, the roofs were swinging up and down and they almost caved in. The roofs of the houses almost caved in! Imagine such an experience – all over Yerushalayim we’re standing on the roofs and the roofs are dancing up and down from the noise of the hallel Pesach night! It was electrifying!
Now, I’m only telling you some roshei perakim, a drop in the bucket of what we’re missing out on. And therefore, it’s a very big zchus, to look back and regret what we cannot do today.
Yerushalayim In Manhattan
Here’s a man walking in the streets in Manhattan looking up at the tall skyscrapers and he’s thinking, “Manhattan is nothing at all. How I wish I could be walking the streets of Yerushalayim right now.” He’s thinking that he’s so sorry that he missed out on the shleimus, the perfection, that was available in those days. How much easier it was in those days to come closer to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. There was no New York Times in those days. There was no TV, no radio, no internet. Even if you don’t have it in your house, the fact that it’s in the air is a ruination; it’s in the atmosphere – you can’t help yourself because the streets are soaking in shtus and ta’avah and immorality.
Even the frummeh, even the best, you have to know, are not immune from that. And so this man in Manhattan is thinking, “I would love to be in Yerushalayim in the days of old! Ah, if I could be there once more! I would give up my refrigerator, my telephone, I would give up my gas range – all the conveniences of modern life I’d give up to live in Yerushalayim in the days of old.”
“Oh,” Hakodosh Boruch Hu says. “You’re sorry there’s no Beis Hamikdash! I’m going to give you a reward for being sorry.” You hear that? The more a person puts his mind on it, the more regret he feels, k’ilu nivneh beis hamikdash b’yamav – it’s as if the Beis Hamikdash was built in his days. If you missed an opportunity and you express great tzaar that you missed it, genuine tzaar, then it’s really something. It makes up for it. It’s already a little bit of the perfection that they achieved then.
Crying For Your Mother
And now we come back to our subject. Because nobody has to look back so far, two thousand years, to feel regret. You can look back to the good old days when you were a boy in the house and your mother said, “Chaim, will you run over to the store for me?” What did you say? You said, “Soon.” Your mother asked again and you said, “Ma, I’ll go soon.” What happened? Your mother went herself. Oy vey! She went herself!
“Ooooy! I lost an opportunity! Ooooy!” And he sheds bitter tears now; “Oh no! What a fool I was! I threw away a pair of tefillin! I threw away mezuzas! It was such a great opportunity! My poor mother did so much for me! She lived just for me! She wept for me when I had a cold! When I was little boy of nine, she stayed up all night with me and she comforted me. When I fell down and cut my finger, she kissed me and she consoled me! Everything she did for me! And here I was going to do something and I told her ‘soon’ and ‘later.’”
And so if you weep now, if you feel a true regret, Hakodosh Boruch Hu counts that; you get a very big zchus! Oh yes! Looking back helps a lot. You go back and think, “Why didn’t I take out that bag of garbage right away when she asked?! Oh, if my mother was alive, I’d be so happy to have that chance once again! If she would say, ‘Chaim, carry out the piano for me,’ I would do it happily!” It’s not merely teshuva, that you’re sorry. No, you’re longing. It’s a cheshek: “How I wish I could show my parents how grateful I am!”
That’s one of the great benefits of yahrzeit. A yahrzeit for a father and mother is not written in the Torah. It’s not even written in the gemara but the Jewish nation, we have to know, has developed minhagim. Now, don’t think it’s just minhagim that developed later and therefore it’s not the original Torah attitude. It says אַל תָּבוּז כִּי זָקְנָה אִמֶּךָ – Don’t disdain the old customs of your people. The customs of the Am Yisroel are very important indications of the right way to go.
The voice of the Jewish people, the shomrei Torah, that’s the voice of Hashem. And therefore, we listen to the Am Yisroel’s derech of honoring the niftarim in various ways. The practice of saying kaddish and the yahrzeit and even lighting a candle on the yahrzeit of the niftar, all these minhagim that were developed by our nation without a meeting of chachamim to make a takana are very valuable.
Only that it’s a pity when people do the maaseh without thinking of the very great yesodos that are involved. And one of the most important lessons of these minhagim is for what we’re talking about now; for the purpose of encouraging us to think back to the great days when the mitzvah was still available to us; when we could still serve Hakodosh Boruch Hu by honoring our parents. Not just to go through the motions, and not only to think about how much I miss my mother, how much I miss my father, but how much I regret not fulfilling this mitzvah d’oraysa when I had the opportunity; how much perfection I missed out on. The regret is a perfection in itself.
That’s why the gemara says mechabdo bechayav umechabdo bemoso — you have to honor your parents even after they pass away. Mechabdo means you have to be interested in honoring your parents, not only because you miss them but because you regret all the perfection that you’re missing out on. So you drop a dollar into the pushka and say, “This is for my mother aleha hashalom. How I wish I could do more; how I wish she was still here so I could honor her.”
Not only tzedakah. Any kind of mitzvah that you’ll do in the zchus of your parents more than you would do ordinarily. And if you do it with pangs of regret for all the perfection of character you’re missing out on, even better. People who live that way, they are being mesaken, they’re remedying part of what they missed when they were younger and didn’t understand what a great gift it was to have parents.
The Lifetime Project
And so we come back once again to the possuk in the Aseres Hadibros that we began with, Kabed es avicha v’es imecha, but this time with a better understanding of what it means in our lives. Going all out in respect for our parents, even like Dama ben Nesina did, is only the first rung of a very tall ladder that leads up to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The attitude of honoring your father and mother, of gratitude to them for what they’ve provided you with, makes a person great. It’s an opportunity to perfect your character, to labor in achieving the middah of hakaras hatov, of gratitude, that is the foundation of the service of Hashem. It’s a lifetime of work!
And then, after years and years of laboring on that, you’ll build a second skyscraper on top of that and you’ll think, “Hashem is my real father and mother.” Because really, הֲלוֹא הוּא אָבִיךָ – Isn’t He your Father? Hakodosh Boruch Hu is your real Father. קָּנֶךָ – He created you. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the one who made you. If you’re here right now, then you’re already indebted forever to Him. And that’s what we’re aiming for in this world – way up high, on top of the ladder, is Kvod Shamayim; that’s what we’re really in this world for – l’chabdo l’vado, to honor Him alone, because He is the One who gives us everything. יִשְׂמַח יִשְׂרָאֵל – Rejoice O’ Yisroel, בְּעֹשָׂיו – in the One who made you!
Have A Wonderful Shabbos