Battling Instinct by Josh Lehman


Parashat Kedoshim is a collection of Mitzvot that Hashem gives to Bnei Yisrael. One of these is “Ish Imo VeAviv Tira’u” (VaYikra 19:3), that one must revere his mother and father. It is interesting to note the difference between this Mitzvah and the law of Kibud Av VeEim, respecting one’s parents. There (Shemot 20:11), the Torah states “Kabeid Et Avicha VeEt Imecha,” listing the father before the mother, but here in Kedoshim, when speaking about expressing awe and venerating one’s parents, the mother precedes the father. Why does the order change?

Chazal offer an explanation based on people’s natural tendencies. They explain that people are naturally more likely to show a sense of awe and fear toward their fathers, as they are generally much more commanding and strict figures, whereas people will generally respect their softer and compassionate mothers more. Therefore, the Torah wisely switches the priorities in the Pesukim to show that we should treat our mothers with the same awe that we show to our fathers instinctively, and that we should respect our fathers just like we respect our mothers.

However, to what extent must someone listen to their parents, as these Mitzvot command us to do so? The Mishnah (Bava Metzi’a 2:10) states that if a Kohein tells his son to go into a cemetery, the son should not do so. This is based on the source of “Ish Imo VeAviv Tira’u VeEt Shabtotai Tishmoru,” “A man must revere his mother and father, and keep My Shabbat” (VaYikra 19:3). This Pasuk teaches us that listening to one’s parents is only within the bounds of Halachah; if a parent tells his son to violate Shabbat, or, in the Mishnah’s case, a Kohein tells his son to become Tamei Meit, that son should not listen to his parent. This applies to all Mitzvot, Aseih and Lo Ta’aseih. Therefore, there are even cases when one does not have to listen to his parents. While this shows that Hashem’s word takes priority over one’s parents’ word, do anyone else’s commands take precedence?

Sometimes even a person’s Rav comes before his father. In Bava Metzi’a (2:11), the Mishnah states if both one’s Rav and father lose something, the person should return his Rav’s item first. This is because the father prepared the individual for life in Olam HaZeh, but the Rav prepared him for Olam HaBa, and thus gets the priority. The only time one’s father would take precedence in the case of an Aveidah is if his father were a Chacham, and his Rav was not a Rav Muvhak (someone who taught him most of his Torah knowledge). The same rules apply for the Mitzvot of Perikah and Te’inah (loading and unloading a donkey), and Pidyon Shevuyim. Finally, there is a situation in which the person himself may take precedence over his father (and even his Rav): if paying the ransom money would thrust him into poverty, as the Torah prohibits a person from intentionally becoming an Evyon.

But even when tendencies and situations would dictate otherwise, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz explains that equal awe and respect must always be present in our lives. He interprets Chazal’s explanation of the change of language to say that the Pasuk teaches us a deeper message. In life, we must try not to let our natural tendencies control our lives; even when we would respect a person more than someone else, we must control that urge. We should live our lives treating everyone equally, whether or not we feel like it. Throughout life, we have to try and break from what we want to do, and do the right thing to do. That is the message of the Pasuk “Ish Imo VeAviv Tira’u”—that we should take control of ourselves and do what is moral and right.

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