Parshat Kedoshim 4

“You must, every person, fear your mother and father. And my Shabbat you must observe. I am Hashem your G-d.” (VaYikra 19:3)

We are obligated to honor and fear our parents. The mitzvah of honor requires that we care for our parents. We must assure that our parents have sustenance, clothing and that their needs are met.[1] We must also fear our parents. The mitzvah to fear our parents obligates us to act towards them with awe. There are many expressions of this obligation. We may not sit in a parent’s chair. We may not refer to our parents by their first names.[2]

The obligation of honoring our parents is fulfilled during their lifetimes. We only have the opportunity to provide for our parents during their lives.[3] The mitzvah of fearing our parents extends beyond their lifetimes. Even after our parents have passed away we must still behave with reverence. For example, we still may not refer to them by first names.[4]

This distinction is indicative of a basic difference between the mitzvot of respect for and fear of our parents. Respect is directed to our parents as individuals. As long as these individuals are with us, we can fulfill this command. The mitzvah of fear is not merely an expression of reverence for our parents as individuals. It continues to exist and guide our behavior even after the individuals are no longer with us. It is an obligation to behave with reverence towards parenthood. Our parents will not always be with us. Nonetheless, we must continue to display our appreciation for the role of the parent. This obligation demands that we continue to behave with an attitude of awe, long after our individual parents have departed.

“You must not eat on blood. You must not act on the basis of omens. And you must not act on the basis of auspicious times.” (VaYikra 19:26)

Parshat Kedoshim includes many prohibitions regarding occult practices and superstitions. We are not permitted to base decisions upon omens or adopt behaviors associated with the occult.

Maimonides includes all of these prohibitions in the section of his code devoted to idolatry. He explains that superstitions and occult practices were used by the idolaters to deceive their followers. He further explains that it is incorrect to maintain that there is any value or wisdom to these practices. Superstition and occult ritual are foolish and of no benefit.[5]

It is readily understandable that belief in the occult is associated with idolatry. However we need to understand the relationship between superstition and idolatry.

Superstition is based upon human imagination and fantasy. It attempts to create order and security in an ever-changing world. The primitive seeks omens and other sources of protection. Superstition involves a flight from reality. Truth is too harsh. Fantasy provides solace.

The Torah requires that we approach life and the universe with wisdom. We must attempt to understand reality and find truth. This search, honestly conducted, inevitably results in an appreciation of the Creator and His Torah.

Superstition is therefore antithetical to the Torah perspective. Escape from reality results in an outlook that has no basis in truth. Any theology resulting from this fanciful and fantastic perspective is a projection of the individual’s imagination upon reality.

Idolatry and superstition have identical roots. The idolater does not base religious beliefs upon wisdom and truth. Inspection is replaced by projection. The theology of the idolater is an expression of the imagination not tempered by serious thought. The connection is now clear. A person guided by superstition has succumbed to the very attitude that underlies idolatry.

“Before the elderly you should rise. And you should give respect to the wise. And you shall fear your G-d. I am Hashem.” (VaYikra 19:32)

We are required to respect the wise. This requirement dictates that we stand in the presence of a scholar. This law applies even to a scholar that is not one’s teacher. Maimonides explains in his Mishne Torah that this obligation is derived from our passage.[6]

There is an additional obligation that applies to one’s teacher or rebbe. Maimonides also discusses this requirement in his Mishne Torah. He explains that one is obligated to respect and fear ones’ parents. Similarly, one is required to fear and honor one’s teacher.[7]

These are two obligations of respect for scholars are separate requirements. The obligation to respect the wise differs from the obligation to respect and fear one’s teacher. For example, we only rise for a wise person, when this individual enters into our immediate vicinity. Once the scholar passes our four cubits we may sit.[8] This is not the case when dealing with one’s teacher. We must rise as soon as the teacher enters into our vision. We remain standing until the rebbe passes out of our field of vision. [9] In addition, there are various other expressions of respect required in dealing with one’s teacher. We are not required to express these forms of respect towards other scholars.

It is clear that the level of respect and awe required towards one’s rebbe is greater than the respect due a scholar. This is reasonable. One has personally benefited from the knowledge of one’s teacher. It is understandable that a higher form of respect is required.

Maimonides makes an astonishing statement that seems to contradict this reasoning. He explains that the teacher can exempt the student from the obligations of respect and awe. Nonetheless, the student remains obligated in the forms of respect due a scholar.[10] Under no circumstances can the honor due a scholar be dismissed. It is odd that the more elaborate obligation due one’s teacher can be ignored. But the lesser respect due a scholar can never be dismissed!

Maimonides provides an important insight into his reasoning. In beginning his discussion of the obligation to fear and respect one’s teacher, Maimonides explains the reason for this requirement. He explains that the obligation to honor and fear one’s teacher surpasses the requirement to respect and fear one’s parents. Parents bring us into this world. However, the teacher provides us with the opportunity to achieve everlasting life in Olam HaBah.

These comments suggest a basic difference between the obligation to honor the scholar and the requirement towards one’s teacher. The obligation to honor the scholar is an expression of our appreciation of wisdom. Because we value wisdom and thought, we honor those who posses this invaluable assets. It follows that these individuals cannot forgo this honor. We are not honoring the individual scholar. We are showing our respect for the wisdom the scholar represents.

In contrast, Maimonides compares our obligation to our rebbe to the requirement to respect and fear our parents. This obligation is an expression of appreciation to the individual for the gift we have received. We are required to show a deep and pronounced appreciation. This consideration dictates the respect and awe due our teacher be expressed in many forms and emphatically. However, the obligation is fundamentally an obligation towards the individual who has provided us with wisdom. This means the rebbe can forgo this honor.[11]

 

[1] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Mamrim 6:3.

[2] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Mamrim 6:3.

[3] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Mamrim 6:3.

[4] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Mamrim 6:3.

[5] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 11:16.

[6] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 6:1.

[7] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:1.

[8] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 6:1.

[9] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:7.

[10] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:11.

[11] See Rav Yizchak Zev Soloveitchik, Chiddushim on Mishne Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah.