Is Grandpa at the Zoo?
I can’t help but laugh when Rabbi Yaron Reuven says that it is no wonder this generation has no respect for their parents since evolution teaches that we all descended from monkeys. With feelings of superiority, how can we value what and who came before us if we think that our parents and grandparents are one mitochondrial mutation away from being a baboon. And so, in this generation we value the new, the young and the beautiful--the evolved. Seniors in our world, well, they have overstayed their welcome. Their usefulness has expired. They are just old monkeys. That is all true if you are an ardent evolutionist. But if you believe that man is not a fancy monkey and that G-d Himself created mankind in His own Divine image, then your time travel to the past will uncover people far superior to us. Adam himself was the most beautiful person who ever existed; he radiated with G-dliness. Then he sinned. And ever since mankind has degenerated in physical and spiritual stature. When Jews pray, we ask G-d to help us in merit of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not because G-d forbid they were monkeys, but rather because they were spiritual giants whose greatness lives still and has the power to redeem us. King Solomon writes in Proverbs, “My son, heed the [Torah] discipline of your father, And do not forsake the Torah instruction of your mother” – because without them, it is we who are the vapid, heartless, selfie-obsessed immoral monkeys running after every shiny new toy.
Whose fault it is, I can’t say. Perhaps some parents of our times were so busy giving their kids what they didn’t have, money, status, comfort, gadgets, etc., that they forgot to give them what they did have: a Jewish heritage, a moral compass, a heart, respect, a sense of duty toward our ancestors and Jewish Homeland. Perhaps they too dismissed an ancestry which singled them out finding foreign cultures and their values more exciting and intoxicating. But by that omission, by not passing the torch of Torah, they snuffed out their own worth and perpetuation making it ever harder for all to obey the commandment about which this article is concerned: honoring our parents. After all, monkey see; Monkey do.
Throughout most of my life, my mother owned a nursing home for the elderly. And though my mother’s senior residence was great, I couldn’t understand how any child could place his/her parents in what I regarded as a luxurious home for the unwanted. I do understand that in some cases home care is not feasible--I get it! But very often it is. And it is then that I truly question at what point does a parent become unvalued, unwanted and a burden? In this cold-hearted, self-centered “Me Me Me” generation, I observe that it’s way too soon--perhaps once the assets are securely transferred. Or when parents need help and there is no more gain or benefit to help them.
For one reason or another, I have walked the halls of many senior institutions in my life. I’ve heard the cries of the elderly grievously calling the names of loved ones. It’s haunting. I’ve looked into the eyes of the sad and soulless who died in spirit long ago and I ask myself, “Where are their children? Are they not ashamed?” I’ve seen people make better arrangements for their dogs. For me it is no mystery why Covid took so many of our elderly; We didn’t deserve them. So important is the obligation to honor our parents that it is included on the first tablet which lists our duties to G-d. “Honor your father and your mother as the Lord your G-d commanded you, in order that your days be lengthened, and that it may go well with you….”
I’m lucky. I know. I had great parents growing up and loving them was easy. But nowhere in the Torah does it tell you to love your parents. It says to love your neighbor, to love the stranger, to love G-d, but for parents it commands you to honor them and to fear them. The Hebrew word for “honor” is kaved. The same Hebrew word also means heavy and burdensome. G-d knows some parents are impossible to love, some easy to dislike. But as burdensome as honor is, it is doable. So do it. Did you know you are not even allowed to sit in your parents’ chair and you are not allowed to contradict them undiplomatically unless they oppose the Bible’s teachings and even then with kid gloves? If you curse them or hit them, the Torah calls for the death penalty.
Don’t talk badly about your parents, especially to your own kids. It’s a sin and soon you will find yourself the victim of their vilification. Dr. Freud made it very easy for people to vent against their parents and blame them for the world’s ills. We never see in the Bible any of the Patriarchs speaking ill of their parents. Abraham, the father of monotheism and Judaism, the father of many nations, was the son of an idol manufacturer. We never hear a word about it from Abraham. “Ah my father was *&%$@; if it weren’t for him, blah, blah….” We never hear Cain blame his parents for eating the forbidden fruit and bringing troubles to the world. Esau, about whom it is written that G-d hates him, never as far as the text indicates, spoke ill of his father for giving his birthright to his brother instead. Who made blamed their parents in the Bible? Today, I personally know many incidents of impatient adult children fighting with and cursing their parents because they won’t hand over the keys to the business before they retire or die. That being said, there is no statute of limitations on honoring one’s parents. A person is bound to honor his parents forevermore even after the tombstone is erected. Every action and behavior in this life reflects on those who raised you and the G-d that breathed life into you.
Remember your children are watching you. Show them the value of loving and honoring a parent. There is more to life than the mall and money. And maybe, just maybe, they will remember you too one day. As they march into the future teach them that they are the children of Israel, a holy people-- descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so that they know from whence they come and to where they are going. Most importantly it will instruct them how to walk the line between the points, like a Jew.