Kibuv Av Va’eim – For The Sake of The Children

By Rabbi Avraham Y. Heschel

After the Ruzhiner Rebbe, zy”a, was arrested on trumped-up charges by the Russian authorities, months passed without anyone on the outside being allowed to see him. When a well-connected Chassid managed to convince the authorities to let him visit the Rebbe — presumably for a very large sum of money —he first paid a visit to the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chavah, a”h.

“If they let you in, please ask that he give you a sign with which I will know that you really saw him,” she asked.

The Ruzhiner Rebbe exhibited much joy over the visit. The Chassid, after relaying the message from Rebbetzin Chavah, took the opportunity to ask the Rebbe the spiritual reason for his imprisonment, adding that some suggested a certain explanation which the Chassid then proceeded to repeat.
After explaining why this could not be the real reason, the Rebbe said “I will tell you why I am in prison, and this will also serve as the siman my mother requested.

“I learned that there is a certain neshamah that hasn’t been in this [temporal] world for a thousand years, but whoever will bring it to this world will have to endure suffering. I was unsure what to do, so I went to ask my mother.

“‘What does a father not do for his child?’ she said.
“That is why I am now in prison,” the Rebbe concluded.
(The child he referred to was his youngest son, Harav Mordechai Feivush, zy”a, later known as the first Husyatiner Rebbe.)

• • •

Chazal (Yalkut) on the passuk in Iyov (41:3) “Mi hikdimani va’ashaleim — Whoever preceded Me, I will reward him,” say “Who is the one who preceded me in giving honor to his parents and I did not give him sons?”

In his sefer Midrash Talpiyos, Harav Eliyahu Isamari (perhaps best known as the author of Shevet Mussar) says that from this teaching of Chazal it would appear that for the one who honors his father, Hashem will give a son who will honor him. In that case, he wonders why the Torah states “Honor your father and mother so that your days will be lengthened,” — instead of saying “Honor your father and mother so that your children will honor you?”

His answer is based on another Chazal, which teaches that when a person leaving this world is survived by a worthy son, it is as though he remained alive. Therefore, when the Torah says that the reward for kibbud horim is “that your days will be lengthened,” this includes having children who will be tzaddikim, who will honor their parents. Because they are tzaddikim, it will be as though the parent remained alive, indeed a remarkable lengthening of days.

The Shevet Mussar adds that although there are cases of people who had exemplary kibbud av and yet did not merit to have children and vice versa, the principle set down in this Chazal remains true — good children are the reward for this mitzvah, and there is a reason known to Hashem why it did not apply in a specific case.

Certainly, the reason why we perform a mitzvah is solely because Hakadosh Baruch Hu instructed us to do so. At the time of a nisayon, this Chazal is a great source of inspiration. As the Ruzhiner’s mother so aptly put it, what does a parent not do for a child?

There is no doubt that kibbud av va’eim can at times be a very challenging mitzvah to perform properly. Even the fact that in many instances our children learn from the way we treat our own parents and go on to treat us this way, may not suffice to provide the courage and emotional strength needed. But the notion that in this zechus a Yid will have children or grandchildren who are tzaddikim, can sometimes serve as the desperately needed boost with which to defeat the wiles of the evil inclination.

As noted in the first column of this series, it is told that the Chazon Ish attributed his hatzlachah in Torah learning to his kibbud eim. Even though he did not have any biological offspring, nearly seventy years after his petirah, the Chazon Ish continues to uplift and inspire all of Torah Jewry. Indeed, we are all his children.

Did You Know?

Contrary to what some erroneously believe, the mitzvah of kibbud horim is not dependent on how a child rates a father ‘s or mother’s parenting skills, or how much love, warmth or material assistance the child received from his parents over the years.

In the Aseres Hadibros in Parashas Va’eschanan, the Torah (Devarim 5:16) tells us, “Honor your father and your mother as Hashem, your G-d, commanded you…”
Rashi, quoting Chazal, teaches us that the words “commanded you” refer to the fact that Bnei Yisrael were taught this mitzvah in Marah.

The Ksav Sofer wonders about the significance of the location where it was taught. He explains that when Bnei Yisrael were in Marah, parents neither fed nor clothed their children. They ate mann and their clothing miraculously grew with them. This illustrates that the mitzvah of kibbud horim is not dependent on nor linked to what children do or don’t receive from their parents! We must honor our parents because the Ribbono shel Olam commanded us to do so.

Instead of using feelings about a parent as a lame excuse to shirk one’s responsibility, an essential part of a Torah Jew’s mission is to work on changing the way he feels to be in accordance with the mitzvah of kibbud horim. B’ezras Hashem, we will expand on this concept in the upcoming chapter of this series.

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