Parshas Acharei Mos - Kedoshim (5772)
In Parshas Kedoshim, the second portion of this week’s double portion, the Torah commands the Jewish people: “Every man: Your mother and father shall you revere and My Sabbaths shall you observe – I am the Lord, your G-d” (Leviticus 19:3).
Rashi quotes the Talmud in Yevamos 6a which derives from the juxtaposition of these two commandments – revering one’s parents and observing the Sabbath – that if a parent commands a child to desecrate the Sabbath [or to do anything else in violation of the Torah], the child must disregard the parent’s wishes and observe the Torah’s laws. Thus, the verse is to be understood as follows: “You are to revere your parents, but My commandments always take precedence over your parents’ wishes, for I am the Lord, your G-d, and all people – including your parents – are required to revere Me”.
This verse would seem to contradict a line that I have heard many a Jew say at such times when Torah laws and morals conflict with his familial obligations: “But isn’t family the most important thing?”
Here the Torah is telling us that while the relationship we have with our parents and family is certainly important, and it is even a Divinely-given commandment to honor and revere our parents, when the family’s wishes go against the Torah’s laws, we must disregard their wishes and obey the will of G-d, because even our parents are obligated to do so.
The truth is that the Torah also believes that “family is the most important thing” – just that G-d is also family – and He is even closer family than our parents! As the Rabbis teach us in Kiddushin 30b: There are three partners in the creation of man - the Holy One, blessed be He, and his father and his mother. And the Talmud in Niddah 31b describes in great detail the contribution each of the three partners makes in man’s creation. Of course, the most important contribution – man’s eternal neshamah (soul) – is provided by G-d, the “silent” partner of the three.
So if you think about it, each one of us really has not two, but three, parents, who are dedicated to us and who care for us at all times. The only difference is that while our human parents think they always know what is best for us, only G-d, our “Divine Parent” truly knows what we need and don’t need in life – so it makes perfect sense for us to follow His commandments even when they conflict with the wishes of our other two parents.
This idea can help us understand a verse in Parshas Re’eh, where we find the biblical prohibition against excessive mourning over the loss of a loved one. The Torah commands the Jewish people: “You are children to the Lord, your G-d – you shall not cut yourselves and you shall not make a bald spot between your eyes for a dead person” (Deuteronomy 14:1).
The Sforno explains that excessive grieving over the loss of a father or mother only makes sense if we are indeed left “parentless” as a result. But since we are “children to the Lord” – i.e. He is our eternal parent Who knows what’s good for us and cares for us and loves us even more than our biological parents – we need not grieve so much, as our most important parent has not passed on but is there to look after us forever.
I will conclude with a beautiful story I once read about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZT”L and a mathematician, which highlights the Torah’s view on listening to our parents when their wishes come into conflict with the Torah [see Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s book Along the Maggid’s Journey pp. 65-66]:
A professor of mathematics wanted his son to leave yeshiva (where he was studying the Torah and its commandments) to begin his professional career. The son was learning at the time in Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, the yeshiva of the great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. The boy's parents met with the sage to discuss the matter. Reb Moshe explained to the parents how important it was for the boy to continue his successful learning a little longer before he leaves the yeshiva. The father supported his opinion by quoting the Torah concept of “Acharei Rabbim L’Hattos” - following the majority. "The Talmud says that there are three partners in man’s creation – G-d, his father, and his mother. My wife and I are of the opinion that he leaves yeshiva now. You, Rabbi, represent G-d's opinion that he stays in yeshiva to study Torah a little longer. Since the Torah itself says to follow the majority, it's two to one in our favor, so he leaves.” Reb Moshe smiled at the father and said, “Your arithmetic is incorrect. Let us think of the partnership in your son as nine shares. G-d has three-ninths, and you and your wife have three-ninths each. But G-d is a part of each of you as well, so you can speak for only two-thirds of your own self – the other third belongs to G-d. Therefore, three-ninths of your son, which is G-d’s share, votes for him to remain learning in yeshiva. One-third of both you and your wife – the part which is G-d’s – also wants him to learn. If you add it all together, you have five-ninths in favor and only four-ninths against. Thus, the majority rules, and he stays in yeshiva!” The boy’s father was so impressed with Reb Moshe’s mathematical logic, and he realized that he couldn’t win the argument, so he allowed his son to remain in Yeshiva to continue learning Torah… and he has never regretted it.