In this week’s Parsha, we learn a valuable lesson in how to treat our parents. Hashem instructs Moshe to address the nation and tell them, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (19:2). To accomplish this, “Every man should fear his mother and father and you shall keep my Shabbatot; I am Hashem, your God” (19:3). The Chachamim note that it is common for one to fear his father more than he fears his mother. Why, then, does the Torah mention the mother before the father? Rashi comments that it is natural to fear one’s father but not one’s mother. The fear of one’s mother is a more difficult feat, and therefore the Torah emphasizes it. This rationale for the ordering of the parents also applies to the fifth of the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and your mother.” Rashi there notes that it is more natural for a person to honor his mother, for she nurtures him. On the other hand, the father traditionally spends more time away from home supporting the family and therefore plays a secondary role in rearing the child.
The two verses, “Every man should revere his mother and father,” and “Honor your father and mother,” are very similar. However, since there are no extra words in the Torah, these two verses must be telling us different things. The difference may be found in the words “revere” and “honor.” Chazal teach that to revere one’s parents is to never disagree with them in public and to always treat them with the utmost respect; for example, never taking their seat at the table. To honor one’s parents is to care for them when they are sick and to support them, especially when they are old and infirm.