Parshat Kedoshim, the latter Parsha of this week’s double Parsha, contains many Mitzvot. These Mitzvot are all connected to the common theme of “Kedoshim Tehiyu,” the requirement that Am Yisrael be unique and separate from the nations of the world. Second among these Mitzvot (after the command of Kedoshim Tehiyu) is the obligation to fear one’s parents, and subsequently comes the command to observe Shabbat. Many commentators (see, for example, Rashi 19:3 s.v. VeEt) explain this juxtaposition in light of a Midrash in Torat Kohanim. The Midrash explains that although one must respect and fear one’s parents, this respect has limitations and boundaries. If one’s parents command him to violate Shabbat (or any other Mitzvah), he must not listen to them.
There is a basic yet intriguing question which can be asked on this explanation. Why would the Torah mention this universal rule specifically with regard to Shabbat? The Torah could have simply stated that if one’s parents command him to violate a Mitzvah of the Torah, it is forbidden to fulfill your parent’s words!
Rav Baruch Schneerson resolves the question based on the well known principle of “Melacha SheAinah Tzricha LeGufah”. On a Deoraita level, one is permitted to engage in Melacha on Shabbat if the objective is not to acquire benefit from the action itself. For example, if a person digs a hole on Shabbat for the purpose of using the dirt uncovered, the action is permitted on a Deoraita level. The person is not digging the hole because he wants a hole in the ground, but rather for the external reason of acquiring the dirt. Rav Schneerson explains that one might have thought that desecrating the Shabbat at the behest of one’s parents falls under the category of “Melacha SheAinah Tzricha LeGufah”, because the only reason the person violated Shabbat was to fulfill his parents wishes, not because he actually wanted the Melacha done. However, the Torah comes to inform us that this is not so. Transgressing the Shabbat at the request of your parents is in fact forbidden.
The Alshich takes a different approach. The Gemara (Kiddushin 30b) states that since Hashem is a partner with the parents in the creation of a child, when one honors his parents he also honors Hashem. Therefore, one might consider the possibility that since the parents represent two thirds of the partnership, they have the ability to override the word of Hashem, who is only one third. In order to reject this rationale, the Torah mentions this broad principle specifically by Shabbat. Shabbat marks the end of creation and reminds us that Hashem created the world and all of its occupants, including parents. Hence, although parents are partners with Hashem, they do not have the authority to override Hashem’s Torah.
It is imperative to acknowledge that the Torah is not sanctioning acting disrespectfully towards one’s parents. The Torah’s commandment to disregard one’s parents when they contradict the Torah should not be misconstrued as eliminating the Chiyuv of Kibud Av VaEim. Therefore, although observing Shabbat takes precedence, the requirement to honor one’s parents dictates that, if asked to violate Shabbat, one respond in an appropriate and respectful manner.