Parshas Vayechi
Genesis 47: 28 - 50:26

The Essence Of Honoring One's Parents ©
By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Mrs. Ethel Belk, may she rest in peace.

As we conclude Sefer Bereishis with Parshas Vayechi we will also be concluding our seven week examination of social issues that began with Parshas Toldos.

Parshas Toldos: Walking In Yitzchok's Revelation..
Parshas Vayeitzei: Human Contact With G-d
Parshas Vayishlach: On Wrestling With The Angel Of The L-rd
ParshasVayeishev: Family Problems
Parshas Mikeitz: How Is G-d With Us?
Parshas Vayigash: How Can I Help End Human Suffering?
Parshas Vayechi: The Essence Of Honoring One's Parents

So much is happening in our world that affects life. How do we live? How do we learn? How do we plan for the future? Who do we marry? {In many cases, Who do we live with?} How do we earn a very good income? How do we live comfortably? Do we want children? If so, How do we raise our children? Where do we live? What shul do we attend? What level of observance do we keep? The issues go on and on and on... Not only do the issues go on and on they are being constantly challenged. It's like going to work today in blue jeans and tomorrow in a suit. The tides of change... style... society...keep sweeping ashore wave after wave. In a few days, G-d willing, we will be swept from the twentieth century into the new millennium...

While the waves of social change / unrest tend to be society's apparent trend, it is not the path of Judaism. Our beliefs and system of values have been rooted within the wisdom of the Torah for thousands of years. Our religion is not trendy! Our beliefs in the Torah are not secured to Wall Street, e commerce or society, etc... Those of us who observe Torah walk to an entirely different pace.

It is here that we begin our consideration of this week's parsha. The Patriarch Yaakov drawing close to death calls for his sons so he can bless them. Yaakov's blessings {for his sons}, death and burial conclude Sefer Bereishis.

How Sefer Bereishis culminates is very important because it gives us a glimpse into how Yaakov's children from Reuvin {apx. 62 years of age} to Binyomin {apx. 50 years} to Ephraim and Menasheh - grandchildren - {apx. 23 - 25 years of age} honored their father. It also launches us into the Torah's guidelines of honoring one's parents....

Yaakov calls for Yosief the spiritual leader of the children and the established leader of the family. Sometimes the spiritual leader and the established leader can be two different individuals. Here Yosief fulfilled both roles. Normally the spiritual leader and the established should be the firstborn. Yosief was the firstborn of Rochel but Reuvin was the firstborn of Yaakov and the firstborn of Leah. Yet Don was the firstborn of Bilhah and Gad was the firstborn of Zilpah. This presented all the necessary ingredients for problems with one exception. Yosief was clearly respected as the established leader first by G-d and second by his father Yaakov. Many types of problems can surround the death of a parent that require everyone's respect of the family leader as displayed here. .

None the less, honoring a parent's wishes in death is the responsibility of all their children. This presents some very serious problems when the parent does not choose the respected spiritual and established family leader or if one does not exist. Yet if a parent has established their desires in a will or verbally as Yaakov did their wishes should be honored. If problems exist or develop one should contact a recognized halachach authority.

Yaakov requires Yosief to swear that he will NOT BURY him in Mitzriam. Yosief swears to his father that he will bury him with his fathers in the cave of Machpeilah. One could say that Yosief was the executor of Yaakov's estate of his last will...
It helps when the executor is truly the spiritual leader of the family and at the same time the established leader. Yosief persuaded Pharaoh to allow him to bury his father in Eretz Canaan. Yosief would lead his brothers and the army of Mitzriam to the place of burial. Yosief and his brothers would also be forced to contend with Eisov, Yaakov's twin brother.

In Genesis 50: 1-14 we observe how carefully Yosief and his brothers honored Yaakov and his desires after his death.

Our sages teach honor after death in the way we address and remember our parent. In death, one should not say: 'Thus did my father say', but,{instead} 'Thus said my father, my teacher say, for whose resting place may I be an atonement. Then after twelve months [of his father's death he must say: "May His memory be for a blessing..."


Everyone must understand that it is Hashem the Creator Who defines when, where and what it means to Honor one's parents in life and in death. Honoring one's parents is not open for trendy changes. The fulfillment of the mitzvah has remained the same. The mitzvah of honoring one's parents was given in the Torah only to Kal Yisroel! In other words, honoring one's parents is only the responsibility of a Jewish child to an observant Jewish parent {with certain exceptions}.

Now this presents some interesting possibilities because Yaakov had four wives. Two wives are Matriarchs of Yisroel, Leah and Rochel. Two wives are not. Bilhah and Zilpah. Yet the children of Bilhah and Zilpah partly compose the tribes of Yisroel along with the children of Leah and Rochel. However, the two wives that are not Matriarchs did observe Torah.

We know that Bilhah and Zilpah are half sisters of Leah and Rochel. They are all the daughters of Lavon. We also know that Bilhah and Zilpah were given as handmaidens to their sisters upon each of their respective marriages to Yaakov. We also know that they observed and raised their children in accordance with Rochel, Leah, and Yaakov.



They are:

If a child is a convert to Judaism it is as though he / she has no parents.

If a child's parents deliberately violate Torah Mitzvahs... The Jewish parents deserve no honor!

If a child's parents are not both Jewish. The Jewish parent deserves no honor because they deliberately violated Torah Mitzvahs by marrying outside Judaism and remain there!

If a person is not Jewish... The command of honoring one's parents was NOT among the seven commands given to Noach. Now other religions of the world such as Christians / Messianics have quoted Torah Mitzvahs as a part of their required observance but this is NOT in accordance with the Seven Noach Commands given by G-d and NOT REQUIRED unless that religious ordinance is made a law of the land enforceable by the court system...

In another article entitled The Torah's View of Honoring One's Parents Reflected in the New Testament. and another article entitled Who Was Jesus?, {as a child and as an adult}. I have discussed the points from a Torah perspective. Briefly in all six references to honoring one's parents as recorded in the New Testament both Jesus and Paul completely supported the Torah Halacha of honoring one's parents without any redefinition!



They are:

If a child's parents are not both Jewish. The Jewish parent receives limited honor because he / she was raised and married, void of any Torah knowledge or instruction. In other words his / her failure to observe Torah did not result from defiance but instead lack of a proper Torah education and instruction in Torah mitzvahs...

If a child's parents were both raised in violation to Torah Mitzvahs and their improper behavior is the result of a lack of any Torah education or instruction in Torah mitzvahs...

If a parent does shuvah or is attempting shuvah...

Which would include such actions as a Jewish parent separating from or divorcing their non Jewish spouse or the non Jewish spouse converting to Judaism.

Sometime later after Yaakov had selected Yosief as his executor, Yosief was informed that his father was ill, meaning close to death. Yosief went to his father with his two sons Ephraim and Menasheh. It is there that we learn the responsibility of Jewish parents to bless their children just like Yaakov blessed Ephraim and Menasheh in Genesis 48:20. Now each Erev Shabbos before the family meal Jewish parents observe the commandment to bless their children as required in this week's parsha...

Children of all ages should greatly desire / submit to the blessings of their parents...

It was here that Yaakov gave the blessing of the firstborn to Yosief the firstborn of Rochel instead of to Reuvin, Yaakov's firstborn of Leah. Essentially Yaakov choose Ephraim and Menasheh to also be his sons.

Later when Yaakov addresses his other eleven sons we learn a few additional points regarding honor to one's parents.

When Yaakov blessed Reuvin he said, "Reuvin, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power;
Unstable as water, you shall not excel; because you went up to your father's bed; then defiled you it; he went up to my couch." {Genesis 49:3,4}

The incident that Yaakov was referring to was when "Reuvin went and lay near Bilhah his father's concubine; and Israel {his father} heard about it." {Genesis 35:22} At the time we do not read of any action by Yisroel regarding this matter. What happened? After the death of Rochel, Yaakov's beloved wife, Yaakov moved his bed from Rochel's tent into the tent of Bilhah, Rochel's handmaiden and Yaakov's concubine. Reuvin was angry with his father's actions. Instead of speaking with his father regarding the matter he spoke to others about his objections to his father's actions and later Yisroel heard about it. Reuvin considered Yaakov's action of moving his bed into Bilhah's tent as an insult to his mother, Leah, who was Rochel's full sister instead of Bilhah, Rochel's half sister. In addition to this Bilhah was a handmaiden... a servant. Reuvin considered his father's actions humiliating and degrading to his mother, Leah. He disturbed his father's bed with his spoken words which in the Torah's view is the same as having laid with his stepmother which is a grievous sin!

This teaches us several points regarding honor:

The Torah records, "Honor your father and your mother, as Hashem your G-d has commanded you.." The person of the greatest honor is mentioned first. Why? Because the mother {Genesis 3:16} is bound to honor her husband and the son is bound to honor his father.

The Talmud relates the the following story: "A widow's son asked R. Eliezer: If my father orders, 'Give me a drink of water,' and my mother does likewise, which takes precedence? 'Leave your mother's honor and fulfill the honor due to your father,' he replied: 'for both you and your mother are bound to honor your father. { This does not imply that the husband need not honor his wife but that the wife must obey her husband, just as a son his father.} "

A son honors his mother more than his father, because she sways him by words; therefore Hashem placed the honor of the father first. A son reverences his father more than his mother, because he teaches him Torah, therefore Hashem, put the fear [reverence] of the mother first.

The son is not permitted to stand, sit or lay in his father's place.
The son is forbidden to contradict his father's words or speak against him.
The son must provide food, drink, clothing and living quarters for his father.
The son must care for his father.

"What is 'fear' {reverence} and what is 'honor'? Our sages taught 'fear' means that he [the son] must neither stand in his [the father's] place nor sit in his place, nor contradict his words, nor tip the scales against him. 'Honor" means that he must give him food and drink, clothe and cover him, lead him in and out."

Our Sages taught that there are three partners in man's creation, Hashem, the father, and the mother. When a man honors his father and his mother,Hashem says, "I ascribe [merit] to them as though I had dwelt among them and they had honored Me."

Reuvin in his youth dishonored his father and as a result was found to be unworthy by G-d to be the spiritual or established leader after Yaakov's death. As a result Yaakov removed the honor of the double / special blessing from Reuvin and gave it to Yosief.

Reuvin openly dishonored his father according to the Torah by contradicting Yaakov's actions and by placing the honor of his mother Leah before the honor of his father Yaakov.

Parents selecting a bride for their son may seem outdated for children living in the twenty-first century however it is a rabbinical directive from Jeremiah 29:6 saying, "Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands." From this we can clearly see that parents are to help in the selection process for their son or daughter. This is beneficial because who knows a Torah observant child better than their parents? Their strengths, their weaknesses, their personality and character traits. Who is better suited from the advantage of experience and Torah to reduce potential mistakes in such an important decision for life?

Falling in love is stupid and foolish. One does not fall in love, one lusts. One builds from a similar observant Torah foundation over a lifetime, brick by brick, a life of love. This honors the Torah, one's parents, one's spouse's parents and one's spouse. Love is the most beautiful architectural design created between these parties and G-d completed at life's end.

As a result even one's wife must be careful to not curse her husband's parents or defame them in any way. Such an action is considered dishonoring one's husband's parents. Unfortunately it follows the sinful actions of Reuvin. That is considered immediate grounds for divorce.


As Yaakov continued with his blessings he said, "Simon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are their swords. O my soul, do not come into their council; to their assembly, let my honor not be united; for in their anger they slew a man, and in their wanton will they lamed an ox. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel; I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel." {Genesis 49:5-7}

Here we learn that they acted carelessly in the matter of their sister Deenah. They misused their father's honor by speaking in his behalf without his knowledge or approval. They used their father's honor to establish a marriage agreement with the men of the Chivite city then turned on them and murdered them, took their women, daughterS, cattle, children, etc.

To this Yaakov said, "Simon and Levi, You have brought trouble on me to make me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and I being few in number, they shall gather together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house. And they {Simon and Levi} said, Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?" {Genesis 34:30,31}

In addition our rabbis taught that one must honor their parents in this life and one must honor them in death. For example, a child who receives honor on account of his living father should not receive the honor to himself but instead he should receive the honor for his father's sake. Taking another's honor is stealing and when it is your father it is also dishonoring and could be disgracing your father also...

Simon and Levi were guilty of stealing their father's honor and by their actions dishonored him. They met with the representatives of a city because of their father's honor. The representatives of the city assumed the sons of Yaakov were there on his behalf. They arranged an agreement believing that Yaakov had agreed to these terms. Simon and Levi lied. They deceived their father. They deceived the men of the city. When they murdered, slaughtered and kidnapped, they disgraced their father and their father's household. No one outside of Yaakov's house would understand or believe the great grandsons of Avraham would commit such atrocities on their own, without their father's directive. They grievously dishonored their father. He noted this by saying, "Let my honor not be united...{with Simon and Levi}."

Within the Torah the command to honor one's parents is stated as follows:

"Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long upon the land which Hashem your G-d gives you." {Exodus 20:12}

"Honor your father and your mother, as Hashem your G-d has commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which Hashem your G-d gives you." {Deut. 5:16}

There are four central points to the mitzvah of honoring one's parents:
First, only Hashem the Creator defines what it means to honor one's parents. Honoring one's parents is not open for trendy changes.

Second, honoring one's parents as Hashem the Creator has defined is not optional. Hashem G-d has commanded us to honor our parents.

Third, honoring one's parents can assist in extending one's life on earth.

Fourth, honoring one's parents can provide for a better life on earth.

Nowhere in the Torah do we read of a son or daughter calling their father or mother by their first name. Yitzchok said {to his father Avraham}, "Avie" meaning father... Yaakov said {to his father Yitzchok} "Avie" Eisov said {to his father Yitzchok} "Avie" and Yosief said {to his father Yaakov} "Avie" .... In fact it is required that a son NEVER refer to his father or his mother by their first names. Even when a son is to call his father to the Torah he says in place of the father's name, "My father, my teacher." Calling a parent by their first name is an act of absolute disrespect.

The Talmud relates a story of a non Jew who greatly honored his father as follows:

"R. Eliezer was asked: How far does the honor of parents [extend]? - Said he, Go forth and see what a certain heathen, Dama son of Nethinah by name, did in Askelon. The Sages sought jewels for the ephod, at a profit of six-hundred-thousand [gold denarii] - R. Kahana taught: at a profit of eight-hundred-thousand - but as the key was lying under his father's pillow, he did not trouble him. The following year the Holy One, blessed be He, gave him his reward. A red heifer was born to him in his herd. When the Sages of Israel went to him [to buy it], he said to them, 'I know you, that [even] if I asked you for all the money in the world you would pay me. But I ask of you only the money which I lost through my father's honor.' Now, R. Hanina observed thereon, If one who is not commanded [to honor his parents], yet does so, is thus [rewarded], how much more so one who is commanded and does so! For R. Hanina said: He who is commanded and fulfills [the command], is greater than he who fulfills it though not commanded."

The Torah teaches that one should honor their parents as one is commanded to honor Hashem. Our sages taught that just as one is commanded to Honor one's father and one's mother one is also taught Honor the L-rd with your substance {Prov.3:9}. This assimilates the honor due to one's parents to that of the Omnipresent. The Torah states, "You shall fear {honor} every man his father, and his mother'; and the Torah also said: Hashem your G-d shall you fear, and him shall you serve." Deut. 6:13. The fear {honor} of one's parents is assimilated to the fear of Hashem. It is said: "He that curses his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death." {Exodus 21:17} It is also said: "Whoever curses his G-d shall bear his sin." {Leviticus 24:15} Thus the Torah assimilates the blessing / cursing of one's parents to that of the Omnipresent.


My Son Was Only Trying To Help!

When my oldest son was very young, maybe four or five years of age, we went fishing in a paid fishing pond where it was easy for children to catch large rocky mountain trout. I felt this was the easiest way for my son to learn how to catch fish without becoming bored. We camped near by and fished there for several days. We caught a lot of fish. It was expensive. On one of those days he caught a three pound golden rainbow. It was a real prize for a young child.

Several weeks later we were in a local sporting goods store purchasing some fishing supplies when my son noticed some large trout in a freezer. One was about the size of the fish my son had caught a few weeks earlier. I bragged to the salesman that my son had caught a fish about that size a few weeks ago.

He questioned, "Where?""
I responded, "Up by Bailey"
He questioned, "In the creek?'
I said, "No but in the area."
It was about then that my son spoke up, "Daddy you know where I caught that fish. It was at Bailey Fishing Ponds where you pay to fish."

Needless to say, I was embarrassed and angry. My under age innocent son got a lesson on "Do not ever contradict your father."

I realize that he meant nothing by it. I should have not been so prideful but in real life this sort of thing happens often with children who do know better. It is forbidden.

Now having said this we return to the fashion of today's youth / parents and ask how many parents teach their children what the Bible means when it says to 'Honor your father and mother?' How many parents know these few basic Torah principles of what G-d expects when he commands, 'Honor your father and mother'?

The result of being careful to honor one's parents produces benefit in this world and in the world to come. Disregarding the Torah Commandment brings G-d's judgment and no promise of expanded life or G-dly favor.

So this week as we conclude the last parsha of Bereishis with Yaakov's blessings for his twelve sons and two grandsons we are reminded of honoring one's parents and the benefit received from carefully observing this important mitzvah.

In Judaism we don't do something just because the law of the country we are living in permits it! Our living, our existence, our prospering is totally based upon the Torah! So when we review a subject like The Essence Of Honoring One's Parents it MUST be clearly understood that it is solely based upon the Torah written over 3,500 years
ago still living in the twenty-first century among serious Jews! Thank G-d.

Wishing you the best,

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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