This Shabbos we read Parshas Yisro. In the Parsha we read about the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the Ten Commandments that were uttered by the Almighty. The fifth of these commandments is the mitzvah to honor your father and mother. The parameters of this most important mitzvah are explained in the words of Maimonides: “How far does the mitzvah of honoring a parent go? Even if they take a package of gold coins belonging to the child and throw it in front of the child to the sea, he should not shame them, nor show anger at them. He should rather just accept the decree of the Torah and remain quiet. How far does the mitzvah of fear of a parent go? Even if he was dressed in royal garments and sitting at the head of a group and his father or mother came and ripped his garments, slapped him on his head, and spit in his face, he should not shame them. Rather he should remain quiet in fear of the King of Kings Who has decreed that he accept this. He should bear in mind that if a human king would decree that he undergo pain and humiliation like this who could not do anything about this, certainly if Hashem has decreed this. (Laws of Mamrim 6:7)
Obviously this commandment is most important. The Talmud tells us that the honor of parents is equated to the honor of the Almighty. Even the wicked Esau is given credit for honoring his parents. When the Torah instructs us to honor our parents, it adds a reward to this commandment. “Honor your father and your mother in order that you should have a long life…” (Exodus 20:12) Why is it that for this particular mitzvah, of all mitzvahs, the Torah promises us a long life?
Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the Rav of Jerusalem, explains that taking care of parents can be very time consuming. Especially as parents age, they may need our help and time. Although a child is happy to give satisfaction to his parents, and to know that he is doing such an important mitzvah, he may feel anguish over the fact that so much of his time has to be taken away from all of his other responsibilities. The Torah therefore tells us that the reward for honoring our parents will be a long life – we will be certain to make up for all the time we have invested in caring for our parents and more.
The importance of this mitzvah can not be overstated. To end off with a beautiful story, it is taught that one night in the city of Salant a group of people were returning home from the Synagogue. There was a torrential downpour that was coming down, and as they ran home they saw a Jew digging the ground with a shovel. Amazed that anyone would be digging in such terrible weather they went to see who this was. It turned out, to their surprise, that the person digging was none other than the famous Tzadik Rav Zundel of Salant. The people immediately asked him why he was digging in such weather and at such an hour of the night? He explained that his mother walked on this path to the Synagogue, and due to the weather the path that she usually walked on was not usable. Rav Zundal therefore went out in the rain and terrible weather to personally prepare a path for her to walk on to the Synagogue.