Honor Your Parents

The Fifth Commandment

“Honor your father and your mother as the Lord Your God commanded you, in order that your days be lengthened, and that it may go well with you on the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you.” – Deut. 5:16 (Fifth Commandment)

The Torah explicitly links proper observance of the Fifth Commandment to long life and living peacefully in the Land of Israel. Honoring one’s parents is such an important mitzvah (law) that it’s in the Ten Commandments. And not only that, it’s on the first tablet, even though it doesn’t seem to belong there. The precepts on the first tablet concern the relationship between man and God while the laws on the second tablet are about human-human relationships. It seems like “honor your parents” should be in the category of human-human relationship, but in fact it is grouped with the man-God laws on the first tablet. The Sages of the Talmud teach that there are three partners in the creation of a human being: father, mother, and God. Honoring all three teaches us to be grateful for the blessing of life and appreciative of those who make our life better.

Honoring one’s parents is not a reciprocal transaction, i.e. you took care of me when I was young so I’ll take care of you when I’m old. The Ten Commandments were given to the generation of Israelites who spent forty years the desert after leaving Egypt and before settling in the Promised Land. During those forty years, God provided for everybody’s needs. These particular parents were therefore free from many of the difficulties of parenting such as providing food, clothing and education; if it’s simple “payback” then did those children owe their parents less than would subsequent generations? No, because this mitzvah isn’t about what your parents did for you, or even if they were good parents. We honor them because they gave us the gift of life. Imagine you’re drowning and someone rescues you. How grateful would you be to that person! How much more should we be grateful to our parents who gave us life. And how much more should we be grateful to God, who gave us all life.

Honoring one’s parents fulfills two other Torah obligations: 

Love your fellow as yourself (Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16)

Emulating God’s ways, as God cares for the needs of all mankind. (Lev. 19:3)


This mitzvah contains both positive (thou shalt) and negative (thou shalt not) commandments. Honor (Hebrew: kibbud av v’eim), and Revere (Hebrew: morah).

HONOR (Hebrew: kibbud av v’eim) = positive to-do commandments

– Provide for your parents’ basic needs. Help them shop and prepare food, provide financial support if needed, take them to a doctor’s visit.

– Visit and call your parents as frequently as you can. 

– Arrange for medical care of an elderly parent.

– Stand up when your parent enters the room.

RESPECT (Hebrew: morah) = negative don’t-do commandments

– Do not sit in your parent’s customary seat

– Do not contradict what your parent says, even if you know it’s incorrect. If it’s necessary to “set the record straight,” the contradiction should be couched in uncertainty: “I may be wrong but…”

– Do not address a parent by her first name.

– Do not wake up a sleeping parent.

– Do not raise your voice at your parent or display anger toward him. Striking or cursing at a parent is a particularly egregious sin.

– A child should not see his parent naked.


You can continue helping your parents after they’ve left this world. What you do in their memory helps their souls in olam haba, the world to come (afterlife.)

– When you refer to your deceased parent say, “of blessed memory”

– Donate to charity in your parent’s memory

– Observe your parent’s yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) by lighting a candle and learning Torah.


– Even if a parent abandons his child, the child still must show honor and reverence. In the Talmud there’s a story about an angry mother who spits in her son’s face – while her son keeps his composure and still treats her with respect.

– If a parent is dangerous to your physical or emotional wellbeing, you aren’t obligated to put yourself in an unsafe situation. 

– Even a bad parent should not be called by their first name.

Image: Austrian Jewish family the Wieners, c. 1920 (photo credit: US Holocaust Museum, courtesy of Hilda Wiener Rattner)

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