God’s View of the Parent-Child Relationship

As it is written, the LORD commands us to honor our parents (Ex 20:12 and Deut 5:16) but also to fear them (Leviticus 19:3). As an aside, the Hebrew for the two words, honor (kabeid) and fear (yarah), are seldom used synonymously, and they are manifestly not synonymous in this case. Moreover, the difference in meaning between these two words is morally significant in that they reveal what God values most in the parent-child relationship.

To understand the deeper meanings in the text (see below), you need to know that Biblical Hebrew conveys relative importance between two or more objects in a number of ways, but most frequently by the order in which they are mentioned. With this in mind, let’s look at the first parts of these commandments:

Ex 20:12 and Deut 5:16: Honor your father and your mother…
Lev 19:3: Fear, each of you, your mother and your father…

Note that the commandment to honor one’s parents places the father first in importance. On the other hand, the commandment to fear one’s parents places the mother first. This is not inadvertent and is textually very significant. Thus does the LORD reveal that a child’s interactions with its parents must be based on both fear and honor. And since we are naturally more fearful of our fathers and respectful of our mothers, God strongly emphasizes that we are not to be ruled by our natural inclinations((See, for example, the article “On Being Human“)). He demands that we honor our father and fear our mother just as much as we [naturally] fear our fathers and honor our mothers.

Now, go and study

This entry was posted in Torah, Wisdom. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.