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Parshas Yisro (5778)

What Are Parents For?

In the "Ten Commandments" (the Book version) found in this week’s Torah portion, we find two groups of laws. The commandments on the right side - Don't say My name in vain, Keep the Sabbath, etc. - deal with our relationship with G-d, whereas the commandments on the left side - Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, etc. - deal with our relationships with each other.

There is one major exception to this - the Fifth Commandment, Honor your Father and Mother. I know there are some parents out there who think they’re G-d, but this commandment really belongs on the left side with all the other commandments dealing with our fellow man. (Imagine how lopsided all those tablets and embroidered Torahs would be if there were only four commandments on one side and six on the other!) Why would G-d place parents alongside Himself in the commandments on the right side of the Tablets?

The holy Kabbalistic work, the Zohar, makes a fascinating statement. It states that "G-d looked into the Torah and created the world". This means that when G-d was about to create the world that we now live in, He used the Torah as a blueprint. Everything here on earth was tailor-made to fit in to G-d's scheme of creation and to reflect His Divine Plan, as laid out in His magnum opus, the Torah.

This is a pretty radical concept for the contemporary Jew to accept - but if we think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Take the idea of parents, for example. Did you ever wonder why we need to have parents? (I'll bet there are many children out there who have been troubled by this very question!) And don't answer that we need parents in order to bring kids into the world. G-d created amoebas too, you know! He has many tricks up His sleeve. G-d could just as easily have created a world without the entire concept of Mommy and Daddy. So why then do we have parents?

The answer to this question goes back to the beginning of creation. G-d had a plan to create a world in which His creations would enjoy a reciprocal relationship with Him. G-d provides the earth, oceans, fresh air, animal and plant life, etc. etc., and we respond in kind by following His orders (read: the Torah), which are only given to us for our own benefit.

There's a slight hitch, though. Once we're born and we come into this beautiful, ready-made world, how is He going to ensure that we realize who created all this good stuff for us. So G-d proceeded to create the idea of parents who are responsible for creating and bringing into the world the physical aspects of the child. He would then be the silent partner in the creation process, contributing the most important part of who we are – the spiritual part - our neshamah (soul).

Thus when G-d commanded the Jewish people to honor their fathers and mothers, His plan was that we would make the following equation: I have to show gratitude and honor to my parents for giving birth to me and raising me; how much more so do I have to show gratitude and thanks to G-d, the most important partner in the creative process.

This explains why the Fifth Commandment - Honor your Father and Mother - is on the right side of the Tablets, together with all the commandments between man and G-d. The essence of the commandment is to show gratitude to those who love us and take care of us. And while that certainly applies to our father and mother down here on earth, it is meant to apply primarily to our Father in Heaven Who loves us even more than our parents do.

This Kabbalistic idea that the Torah is “the blueprint for creation” applies in other areas as well. We tend to think that there is a mitzvah to give tzedakah (charity) to poor people because they're poor and they need it. In reality, the exact opposite is true. If we truly believe that G-d created this world we live in, we must ask ourselves some tough questions. Like, why did He make some people poor, while other folks live in big mansions and vacation in Aruba? (By the way, that's a question you only hear from poor people - the rich folks tend to accept their "lot" without questioning G-d's Divine plan!) Why did it have to be that way? Couldn’t He have made everyone wealthy, thereby eliminating the entire need for the mitzvah of tzedakah?

The truth is – the Zohar teaches us – that the real reason why some people are economically challenged is only to enable the rich people to fulfill the mitzvah of charity through them! In other words, the beautiful concept of tzedakah and its implicit lessons of faith and trust in G-d, as set forth in G-d's Torah blueprint, made necessary the creation of an entire system of people with different economic levels, in which the rich can sustain the poor and thereby gain spiritually as a result.

This idea of the Zohar challenges our cozy, neat and convenient perception of the way things work in this world. We are trained in Western society to think that the successful tycoon is where he is because of his amazing business acumen, and the poor shlepper is poor because he's either lazy or a shlepper, or maybe it's just fate.

What the Zohar is asking us to do is to remove ourselves for a moment from the conventional way of thinking, and to think about the bigger picture. And hopefully, through the study of Torah, we can gain new and deeper insights into who we are, and why the world is the way it is.

[To learn more about this fascinating Kabbalistic concept of Torah being the blueprint for Creation, click here to read the essay: The Genetic Code of Reality by Rabbi Akiva Tatz M.D., excerpted from his book World Mask (Targum Press)]

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