I’m not ashamed of the fact that I love talking to my parents every night
There is an image of the Jewish mother, calling from her Florida apartment and leaving yet another message on her child’s phone. In a voice oozing of guilt, she says, “You never call. You never write…”
While it is not surprising that all parents love to hear from his/her child more often, this is clearly an exaggerated caricature. The reality is, not only do most adult children call their parents they are doing so even more during this time of Covid.
During Pesach, at the height of the pandemic in New York and New Jersey, more and more adult children went out of their way to check in with parents. Adult children were frightened for their parents’ physical and emotional well-being. The danger of Covid-19 and the toll of isolation weighed heavily. Children gathered their families outside windows and at safe distances just to be present, just to communicate their love. More than one adult child rented a motorized lift, a “cherry picker”, to be able to get closer to a parent living on an upper floor of a senior residence!
Covid-19 certainly brought out the desire to stay close and express our love to our parents. However, it shouldn’t take a pandemic to get us to make sure our parents know our feelings.
Kibbud Av v’Eim.
As one of the Ten Commandments, it is as important as Remembering and Honoring the Sabbath and believing in the God Who brought us out of Egypt. It is the command upon which the commandments pivot from those between God and Man to those between Man and Man. It is the bridge. It is a command that speaks both to our responsibility to God and to others.
Honor your parents. Simple. Piece of cake. Or is it? There are countless Jews who keep kosher without a slip; who wrap tefillin like artists; who live a life of perfect tzniut. But honoring their parents? There are few, if any, who have perfected the performance of a mitzvah the Shulchan Aruch elaborates on in extensive detail.
In addition to the mitzvah to honor parents, there is the complementary mitzvah of displaying awe and reverence towards parents (ish imo v’aviv tirahu), a mitzvah which also requires constant attention – never acting in a demeaning way toward parents, never contradicting them, not referring to them by their first names … the list goes on and on. Indeed, the obligation of Kibbud Av v’Eim continues even after a parent has passed away.
The value and importance of most commandments is self-evident. They protect our relationship with God, or with the community. But why so much attention to honoring parents? The easy answer is, we owe our parents so much! Honor is justifiable recompense for years of changing diapers, carpooling and paying tuition. The Sefer HaChinuch explains [Mitzvah 33] that, “It is proper for a person to recognize and give kindness to someone who did a favor to him, and shouldn’t be an ingrate and a denier of good… and therefore in truth he should really do for them [father and mother] all honor and purpose that he could…” Without parental care we would never survive, let alone thrive.
Yet, doesn’t that seem awfully transactional for the relationship we honor? Besides, this commandment was revealed while the Israelites were in the desert, where God provided for everyone’s needs. In a material sense, parents provided relatively little. So, it would appear that the commandment does not depend on how much (or how little) our parents provided or did.
The one thing that all parents do – regardless of their material or emotional generosity – is give us life. It is for this gift that we honor and revere them.
The Talmud teaches that there are three partners in the formation of every person – a father, a mother, and God. To each of these we owe daily recognition and gratitude.
This mitzvah is never exhausted. As long as we live, we owe gratitude for our lives. Just as we acknowledge and honor God daily for creating all life, we must include our parents in our daily gratitude for creating the particular life, our own.
Modeh ani… who would fail to thank God, every single day for his soul? Our prayers are never enough to acknowledge the gift we’ve received from the Giver of life. On Shabbat, we say as much in Nishmat. “Were our mouths as full of song as the sea, our tongues uplifted in song like its multitude of waves, our lips vibrant with praise…our eyes shining like the sun and moon…we would still be unable to thank You enough…”
Nor can we ever thank enough His partners in our creation, abba and ima.
And yet, just as there are days when our davening is lacking in kavanah and intensity, there are too many days when we fail to honor our parents. At least in praising God, even if we cannot muster the emotion, we have the words. We have a script – the siddur, the Tehilim. Without such a script, we are even less likely to express the deserved honor to our parents.
But we don’t need a script. All we need is a phone. A land line will do!
Years ago, when our family was in Pittsburgh, my father z’l was in New York. Nearly every evening, I called him. The conversations were often short and even more often repetitious.
A couple of niceties. And then we were “signing off”, he with fervent and sincere brachos for me and my family.
My daughter often stood at the door and “listened in.” One time, as I hung up the phone, she asked, “Abba, why do you call Sabba every day?” She added, “You say the same thing every time,” going on to repeat our conversations almost verbatim.
I don’t recall my exact answer, but I know it sought to capture in an appropriate way for a young child the feelings I have today, when I think that I would give anything to receive those simple but profound blessings from my loving and devoted father even one more time.
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Luach Hatzibur, a daily publication distributed in all shuls and Batei Midrash in Boro Park, Brooklyn includes announcements of simchas, want ads, yahrzeits, ads, announcements, shiurim as well as community events. These past few weeks, I have been struck by one ad in particular.
Did you already call your parents today?
That’s the entire ad (the smaller letters state the ad is placed in memory of R’ Elazar b’r Yehoshua Heshel and Chana Bracha bas R’ Chaim Yisha).
I have read ads for just about everything in this publication but an ad prompting us to observe Kibbud Av V’Eim? Wow. I find myself trying to picture the person who placed the ad. Perhaps a father missing a call from his son or daughter. Or maybe a child who knows how tough it can get in the midst of a full day to check in with a parent.
Recently, I read a blog by Lisa Schmidt, a Detroit Relationship coach who wrote, “10 Things That Changed Me After the Death of a Parent.” Among her observations she notes, “When you see your friends or even strangers with their mom or dad, you will sometimes be jealous… eight and ten years [after their passing] there are still times I reach for the phone when something exciting happens. Then it hits me, I can’t call them.”
Honor them! Call them while the line is still open! It’s Elul. Resolve to observe this commandment better this year.
Call your parents. They’d love to hear from you.
You’ll regret not answering the ad when you could!
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.