Morgan Buroker D’var Torah, August 1, 2015, Parshah Ve’ethanan

IMG_0892Hello, shabbat shalom! I am so happy that now I get to tell you about my parshah! My parshah is called Va`ethanan. Va`ethanan is in the book of Deuteronomy chapters 4-7. The whole book of Deuteronomy is a series of speeches given by Moses reminding the Jews, who are standing at the shore of the Jordan River, of their history and the rules to follow in the land. Deuteronomy means “second law” because this is the second time the rules have been stated to the Jewish people. (The first time being after the Jews left Egypt).

Va`ethanan means “and I plead.” In the beginning of my parshah, Moses begs (pleads) to God to let him in the land after he is told he could not go. He was not successful. Next, the Ten Commandments are restated and the Shema and V’ahavta are declared. Also in the parshah is a famous verse that inspired the Passover haggadah that says “When in time to come, your children ask you, what mean the rules and laws that the Lord your God has enjoined upon you, you shall say to your children, we were slaves to the pharaoh in Egypt and the Lord freed us from Egypt with a helping hand.”

Today I will be talking about the Ten Commandments, from Deuteronomy chapter 5 lines 1-18. Moses is restating the commandments. Almost all people who left Egypt died on the 40 year trip to Israel, so a whole new generation of people who had not heard the Ten Commandments were there to hear them. That is why Moses needed to restate them. Also, the Ten Commandments are important because if you don’t do a commandment, it could sacrifice your chances of living a good life in the promised land.

The big thing that I am focusing on is the commandment “Honor your mother and father.” This commandment is very interesting to me for many reasons. One reason is that God actually had to tell us to honor our parents. God could have made a more important commandment, like “treat animals right.” Animal abuse is a more important problem in this world; not that I’m saying honoring your parents isn`t important. It’s just not as important as some problems in the world. Now why does God actually need to tell us to honor our parents? If God didn’t, does God think that we wouldn’t do it? But the thing is, just because there is a commandment about something doesn’t always mean that people will still follow it, people don’t always honor their parents.

For example, a parent could tell you to do a few chores around the house, and you don’t do them. I know that’s happened to me before, so technically, I have not honored my parent at all times and I’m sure other people haven’t either. My point is, just because there is a commandment on something does not mean people will follow it.

Second reason the commandment is interesting is that this commandment is the only one to offer a reward if done. The Torah states “Honor your mother and father, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may long endure, and that you may fare well, in the land that the Lord your God is assigning to you.” This states that if you honor your mother and father you can live a long peaceful life in the land; that’s the reward. Some of the other commandments have consequences if not done, and others say to just do this. But what is so important about this commandment that it is the only one to offer a reward?

I mean who wouldn’t want a reward for doing something, I know I would. Obviously, the commandment to not murder is more important than honoring your parents, so why doesn’t that one offer a reward? In the Talmud there are many stories of the rabbis honoring their parents. These are rabbis and not kids, so that tells us something already about what honoring means–it doesn’t mean cleaning your room!

One story really stood out to me. It was talking about a rabbi, Rabbi Tarfon, whose mother liked to go for walks every day. One day when she went out for her daily walk, and she split her sandal, so she couldn’t walk, the rabbi let his mother walk on his hands so she wouldn’t hurt her feet. One day, the son grew ill, the mother begged for the sages to pray for him so that he will become better, but the sages replied with a no! They said that he has not reached the full potential of what the Torah says to honor your parents.

What I am saying is that in the sages’ eyes, he didn’t do enough for his mother so he didn’t get the reward and it ended with him becoming ill. I found this very interesting as well. I mean how far do you need to go for your parents? I could do everything for my parents–make their meals, clean the house, buy their clothes, go grocery shopping–but would God count that as enough?

There could be many things that interfere with this commandment of honoring your parents. For example, what if a parent is abusive? A child would not want to honor their parent if they don’t treat the child with respect. God might have a different view, who knows, even if a parent is not nice God might still want you to honor your parent. Also, what if you don’t believe in God? Do you still respect your parents? These are all questions that might not ever be answered. I think that you should still respect your parents if you don’t believe in God, but I also think that if a parent was not treating you right, God would still want you to treat them with respect.

There is one final reason why I think this commandment is interesting, found in a midrash about its place on the rock tablet. The Ten Commandments are on two tablets, five on one side and five on the other. The first five are the ones connecting people to God, the other five are between people and people. Honor your father and mother is on the first tablet and is commandment number five. But wait, doesn’t honoring your parent have to do with people and people? So why is it on this side? I believe it is on this side because it is connecting you to God if you honor your parents. But there is another answer to why this commandment is on the side with God: God was involved in the making of all of you, this is the reason it is on the God side.

This commandment is a really interesting one. It is the only commandment that offers a reward if done. The reward is very hard to get as we learned from the story about Rabbi Tarfon. And it is very interesting that God actually needs to tell us to honor our parents with a commandment when there are more important problems in the world. Also, nobody knows, even if a parent doesn’t respect you, does God expect you to honor you parent, and what if you don’t believe in God, do you still honor your parents? I am very glad that I got to research this commandment and learn a lot more about it. I will take a lot away from this commandment. I will be more conscientious about honoring my parents because I know that God is watching me to see if I am or not.

Now I want to hear a little bit about what you think about the commandments. I have a few questions for you:

How do you honor your parents?

What makes honoring your parents so hard?

Do you think there is any single most important commandment?

You don’t need to answer the questions in order, just respond to one of them.

Thank you so much for listening to what I learned about my parshah and sharing your thoughts!