THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT: HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER, AS THE LORD YOUR GOD HAS COMMANDED YOU, THAT YOU MAY LONG ENDURE, AND THAT YOU MAY FARE WELL, IN THE LAND THAT THE LORD YOUR GOD IS ASSIGNING TO YOU. Deuteronomy 5:7. Tanakh Version, JPS.
This was one of the hardest of the Commandments for me. When I decided to attend a church I was going against practically my entire family. My father in particular was certain that all churches wanted only your money. I had heard every argument against organized religion that he could think of, so how could I both honor him and still go against his will?
My brothers nearest me in age both laughed at me and my youngest brother and only sister would be somewhat better, but also chose other paths. My mother was the only mildly supportive person in the family. Things would change with some of them later, but in the beginning I felt very confused about the situation. I thought and prayed for a long time but still felt as though my choice was a bone of contention in the family.
One day it occurred to me that I could best honor any other person, including my father, by living the best life I could. I came to believe that someday he might be blessed by what I was trying to do. I have lived long enough now to realize that we really should HONOR our parents, and those who came before them, for giving us the great gift of life and the heritage they pass on to us. Saying that doesn’t mean that we don’t have some horrible parents out there, and it doesn’t mean that forgiveness is an easy thing. And yet the principle still holds.
Not that long ago I heard a woman speaking of her wonderful parents and what a charmed life she had as a child. Her recollections were the kind of thing that once would have made me sad, and perhaps jealous. Suddenly a feeling of complete rejection for such a life washed over me. It would never have been possible for me to have led such a life. I had forgiven my father completely, but for the first time I was actually grateful that my father and mother were who they were, and that I would never want any others.
This commandment also has blessings connected to it. One is that you may long endure in the land (the King James Version says “that your days may be prolonged”), and that you may fare well. Does that blessing still hold? Do children honor their parents anymore? What would happen if they did?
How does one change the alienation of many of our youth towards their parents, and restore the love that many of those parents once held for their young? We all need to forgive our parents at some point in our lives.
The commandments are meant to stretch our souls and humanize us. This one may be the most humanizing of all.