The Ten Principles for America
The Fifth Commandment
“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened upon the land that the Lord, your God, gives you”(Exodus 20:12) . In the previous assays in this series of the Ten Commandments, we have pointed out the difference in commandments inscribed on two tablets. We also acknowledged that there were five on each, the first tablet contains commandments (principles) regarding mans relationship with God, and the second describes relationships among people. The fifth commandment was placed on the first tablet with the others laws regarding man’s relationship with God. This reveals and sheds light on the significance that God has attached to the principle “Honor thy parents” as it was placed among those that refer to the honor and reverence that are due to God Himself. It is obvious that understanding this concept of the need for man to honor their parents, we may understand that God regards it as if they honor Him. The Sages explain it in this way: there are three partners in a human being; God, Father and Mother. When one honors his parents God considers it as the honor belongs to Him. But if they don’t God says, “I did well not to live among them for if I had dwelled among them they would have tormented Me, as well”.
It is interesting that in the version of the ten commandments in Deuteronomy (5:16) His commandment adds the phrase “as the Lord, your God, commanded you”, this is of course in order to stress that despite mans obvious love to their parents, parents should not be honored merely out of love and sentiment because such emotions are often weak, fragile and subject to change. Rather, this command implies that man should always be aware that respect for their parents is part of mans obligation to God.
Respect for parents is a pivotal point of faith in the entire bible. Traditionally the bible is based on the joining of generations from Abraham to Moses and so forth, and describes fully successive generations of parents and children. It is clear that this fifth principle is the guarantor of the previous four principles on the tablet.
The actual term “honor” in this principle, is explained as performing deeds that one commits himself to elevate the status of his parents by providing them with a comfortable life; such as taking care of their needs and welfare. The honor that is implied here to the parent equates itself to that which the other commandments on the first tablet attribute to God. Children must be aware and acknowledge who their parents are and refrain from doing anything that might cause them to be disgraced or disregarded, perhaps above all is to honor parents not for the sake of inheritance or any other motive. God reveres this principle of honoring your parents so much so, that it is the only commandment (principle) in the entire Ten Commandments that offers a reward for those who accept and follow it.
In the previous essays on the Ten Commandments I showed a parallel between the five commandments on the first tablet to the five on the second. Let’s see how the fifth commandment relates now to the tenth commandment. “You shall not covet your fellow’s house. You shall not covet your fellow’s wife, his man servant, his maid servant, his ox, his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your fellow”. The best analogy for the word “covet” is envy. In other words the principle in the Ten Commandments is for mankind not to envy other people’s possessions. This is not a prohibition of being jealous of others, but being envious of others possessions. Envy has the potential to bring a man to irrational behaviors that might lead to a collapse of society.
Thus, do not covet points out that men must have respect not only for other men, but for his possessions as well. The possession of other man is his own, and therefore should not be the business of anyone else. So, how does this commandment relate to honor your parents? The “honor” of the parents is their possession, it belongs to them, and therefore it has to be guarded as their possession, and has to be guarded with complete respect.