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The Nature Of The Mitzvah Of Kibud Av V’eim

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This week’s parshah, Parshas Yisro, is one of two parshiyos that contains the asseres hadibros. The fifth dibrah is the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim – honoring one’s parents. The Minchas Chinuch discusses whether this is a mitzvah bein adam lachaveiro (between one man and another) or bein adam lamakom (between man and his Creator). One nafka mina (halachic difference) between these two options is whether one who has transgressed this mitzvah is required to ask mechilah from his parent in order to attain atonement. The Mishnah, in Yuma 85b, states that in order to attain atonement on an aveirah bein adam lachaveiro, one must beseech the fellow he wronged. If it is considered a mitzvah bein adam lamakom, one need not beseech his parent in order to achieve atonement.

The Ramban writes in Parshas Yisro that the luchos were divided into two categories: the first side was mitzvos bein adam lamakom, and the second side contained mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro. The Ramban adds that the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim is on the first side because it is indeed a mitzvah bein adam lamakom. This is so because it is a kavod to Hashem when one honors his parent. He explains that since a parent was a partner in a child’s creation, showing honor to a parent is comparable to showing honor to one’s Creator. The Ramban explains that this is the p’shat in the pasuk in the asseres hadibros of Parshas Va’eschanan. There it states that one must honor one’s parents just as one must honor Hashem. Why? Because one must honor both partners of his creation. It is evident from the Ramban that this is a mitzvah bein adam lamakom.

The Chinuch (mitzvah 33) explains that the idea behind the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents is that one should not be a kafoi tov; rather he should recognize and repay the goodness shown to him. Therefore it is incumbent upon every child to do all that is in his capability to honor his parents, for they brought him into this world and raised him until he was able to provide for himself. When one internalizes this middah, he will come to recognize the good that Hashem bestows upon us. The Chinuch concludes that one who transgresses this mitzvah by not showing his parents honor is guilty of a bitul assei and that his punishment is great, for he has become disgusting in the eyes of his Father in Heaven. From the Chinuch as well it seems as if the mitzvah is bein adam lamakom.

Tosafos (Kesubos 40a) asks why the Gemara in Yevamos 5b says that we can apply the concept of assei docheh lo sa’asseh to the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim. Why don’t we inform the father that he should say he is not interested in this action, which would result in the lack of a mitzvah? Tosfos’s answer: the mitzvah exists once the parent has already commanded that he wanted the action to occur.

The Birchas Shmuel, in Yevamos 3:3, explains Tosafos in the following manner: Tosafos was bothered that kibud av v’eim should be considered a mitzvah which is primarily for another person, namely bein adam lachaveiro; thus he asked that we should not apply the concept of assei docheh lo sa’asseh. (He derives this from the Gemara in Baba Metzia 30a, which says that we do not apply the concept of assei docheh lo sa’asseh to monetary matters.) Tosafos answers that in truth, the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim is not a mitzvah bein adam lachaveiro but rather a mitzvah bein adam lamakom. Therefore, while the parent requested the action, we will be able to apply the concept of assei docheh lo sa’asseh. Once the parent says that he is no longer interested in the action, the mitzvah ceases to exist.

The Rama (the rishon), in Kesubos 40a, writes that even when a parent says that he is not interested in the action, the assei nevertheless applies. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Yoreh De’ah 240:19) quotes from the Radvaz 1:524 (that derives from the Rama) that even though the Gemara in Kiddushin 32b states that a father may forgo his honor, this only provides for no punishment for not having shown honor and respect. But if a child nonetheless shows honor and respect, it is a kiyum mitzvah.

The Chayei Adam, in hilchos kibud av v’eim (67:1), says that the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim is the repayment of a debt that one owes to one’s parents for all the good they have shown him. One who does not show his parents respect and honor is considered a rasha, for the pasuk states that one who does not repay his debt is a rasha. This implies that the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim is a mitzvah bein adam lachaveiro.

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