Parashat Va'et'hanan

Whom Should You Honor?

Although relationships between parents and children are complex, our honor for our parents should remain unwavering.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from the Union for Reform Judaism.

  • Moses pleads with God to let him enter the Land of Israel with the people, but God once more refuses his request. (Deuteronomy 3:23–28)

  • Moses orders the Children of Israel to pay attention and follow the laws given by God in order to be worthy of the land they are about to receive. (Deuteronomy 4:1–40)

  • Specific areas of the land are set aside to serve as cities of refuge. (Deuteronomy 4:41–43)

  • The covenant at Sinai and the Ten Commandments are recalled. Once again, the people are exhorted to heed God's commandments. (Deuteronomy 5:1–30)

  • Moses speaks the words of the Sh'ma, the credo of Judaism, and commands Israel to show their love for Adonai and keep God's laws and ordinances. (Deuteronomy 6:1–25)

  • Moses warns the people not to commit idolatry by worshiping the gods of the nations they will conquer in Israel. (Deuteronomy 7:1–11)

Focal Point

Honor your father and your mother, as Adonai your God has commanded you, that you may long endure and that you may fare well in the land that Adonai your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 5:16)

Your Guide

What are the implications and meaning of the order in which this commandment occurs within the Ten Commandments?

What do you think the author of the text means by the word "honor?"

What meaning might honoring our parents have today?

Do you think that there is any special significance in the fact that the word "father" is placed before the word "mother" in this verse?

By the Way…

Five [commandments are written] on one tablet and five on the other…. On [the last line of] one tablet it is written: Honor your father and mother. And opposite it on the [last line of] the other tablet is written: You must not covet your neighbor's wife. Our coveting can lead to illicit affairs and complex relationships or families, in which the children end up unable to give both of their parents proper respect or may be unsure to whom that honor is due. (Rachel Mikva, Broken Tablets, Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, VT, 1999, p. xix)

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Rabbi Lawrence W. Raphael

Rabbi Lawrence W. Raphael is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, California. Previously, he was the first Director of the Department of Adult Jewish Growth at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations from 1996 to 2003.