By A. Simantov
“Before one finds God, he must first lose himself.” (Baal Shem Tov)
A question to ask yourself: Is your belief in God based on faith or is it based on logic?
In discussing the commandment of “honor thy father and thy mother,” the Gemara states the following: “When the nations of the world heard the first two commandments, commanding that there were to be no other gods before the Almighty, they were repelled by what they saw as God’s concern with His own honor; but when they heard the commandment of honoring one’s parents, they reconsidered and accepted the first commandments as well.”
What insight did they gain from hearing the fifth commandment, making them change their thinking and accept the first two commandments? Because, in truth, after looking carefully at their original reasoning, we might deduce that their argument about God’s honor actually has some logic!
It was the commandment to honor their parents that persuaded the nations of the world to accept the first two commandments as opposed to Bnai Yisroel, who accepted each individual command on its own merit. What is the implication of this difference in attitude? What does honoring parents signify?
The attitude of many is that it is critical to honor a parent because it is rational, rather that God’s commandment. Observing a moral code is a guarantee of one’s own security and self preservation; we ‘do unto others as we would have done unto us.’ The rational, humanistic practice of honoring one’s own parents is a kind of insurance policy, and many are prepared to pay this against old age; consequently, from respecting parents, it is an easy jump to accept religion. Most faith-based teaching shares that God is the third partner in the creation of man. The nations subsequently and naturally honor God by appreciating the benefits to both Himself and society.
The motivation of the Jews was different. In their case, belief in God and gratitude to Him for all His gifts is the basis of their moral code, the seed from which the entire organism of religion, ritual and ethics emanate. For Jews, faith is the cardinal virtue, and obedience to God’s will — whether or not it is accessible to human reason — forms the greatness of Bnai Yisroel. In celebrating the miracles that have been done for us historically as well as the gifts we receive daily, our ethical awareness develops into a sense of gratitude to God. This gratitude leads one to the honoring of parents for bringing us into the world. This process of religious development is the opposite of the nations. For those who call themselves God-fearing, parents are the starting point of a truly spiritual life. From this point of view, ingratitude to parents can be interpreted as a symptom of a deep alienation from God.
A fork in the road
The Sforno comments on Devorin, “Take care that you do not go after ‘middle roads’ and compromises. Behold, I have put before thee two extreme opposites, a blessing a curse. There is no alternative. If you do not choose the path that leads to a blessing, you have thereby taken the path that leads to a curse. There is no middle road.”
From the Torah to your table:
The Chofetz Chaim said, “He who believes will not be troubled by doubts, and as for him who does not believe, explanations will be of no avail.”
Discuss this commentary at your Shabbos table.
Torah Portions August 2012:
Aug. 4: Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)
Aug. 11: Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)
Aug. 18: Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)
Aug. 25: Shoftom (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)