From baby carriage to wheelchair, life has a way of coming full circle. We start out being totally dependent on our parents and often end up being totally dependent on our children. Many ‘baby boomers’ dealing with aging parents must balance functioning as their parents’ decision maker with according their parents the honor and respect they deserve.
Judaism places a high priority on honoring parents. “Honor thy father and mother” is one of the most well known of the Ten Commandments. The Jewish tradition teaches that the mitzvah includes both honoring and revering.
To honor our parents means to care for their needs, such as:
- bring them food
- prepare meals
- do grocery shopping
- manage the payment of bills
- handle banking
- take them to the doctor
To revere our parents means to distinguish clearly between who is the parent and who is the child, knowing that the two are not equal. Examples include:
- not raising your voice or speaking disrespectfully
- not contradicting a parent (even if they’re obviously wrong)
- not sitting in their designated place unless first getting permission
- not waking a resting parent
A story is told in the Talmud of the son of a jeweler who refused to disturb his sleeping father when representatives from the Temple in Jerusalem came to his door, wishing to buy precious gems for the High Priest’s breastplate. The key to the family’s diamond vault was under the father’s pillow and the son would not wake his father, even at the cost of losing a fortune in diamond sales. The next year, a rare and valuable red heifer was born to a cow in the jeweler’s herd, and representatives once again came from the Temple to pay a large sum for its purchase. This time, the father was not sleeping, and the previous year’s loss was more than fully recouped. The Talmud praises the son’s selfless act as a laudable example of honoring one’s father and mother.
The Torah promises long life as a reward to those who honor their parents. Perhaps one reason is that caring for parents — especially when they are elderly – can take up a lot of time. By adding extra years to a person’s life, G-d “compensates,” so to speak for the time spent.
Of course, just doing the mitzvah is its own reward. After a lifetime of our parents giving to us, it feels good to give back to them.
For more information on CHAI’s many services available for seniors, call 410-500-5315.
If you’d like to volunteer for CHAI’s Northwest Neighbors Connecting volunteer support network for seniors, call 410-500-5307.