Honoring Our Fathers
When God gave the Ten Commandments, He was establishing the foundation for society and truly “western civilization” and esp. the laws of the United States are built upon them. Their importance cannot be denied (although many people try to do so in this day). The Ten Commandments are generally divided into two lists of five commandments each. This bodes well with the “two tables of stone” (Heb: שְׁנֵ֖י לֻח֥וֹת אֲבָנִֽים -snei luchot avahnim) that they were originally written on. The fact that the Ten Commandments were contained on two stone tablets is also conveyed in the term: ‘two tables of testimony’ – שְׁנֵ֨י לֻחֹ֤ת הָֽעֵדֻת֙ (snei luchot habrit) mentioned in Exodus 34:29 and in the Passover song, “Echad Mi Yodea”.
The traditional Jewish division is to divide the ten into two lists of five to be paired with the two tablets of stone. According to the Jewish sage, the Ramban, the two lists of five commands are two sides of the religion and divides into themes – five laws dealing with our relationship to God and five social laws. But why is the command to honor parents located in the section that deals with belief and God? The Ramban writes: “for as I [speaking of God] have commanded you in My honor, (referring to the first four commands), so I command you in the honor of My partners in creation (ie, our parents).” He adds, “It is correct for a person to recognize and repay, in some measure, the good which has been offered to him … A person should realize that his father and mother are the cause of his existence in this world; therefore it is appropriate that he render them all the honor and do them all the service he can. For they brought him into the world and labored greatly on his behalf.” The phrase “our fathers” is only one word in Hebrew: אֲבֹתֵ֔ינוּ – ah-vo-tei-nu. It occurs 80 times in the Bible. The direct reference is to the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but it also refers to all the forefathers of the Jewish people – ie, the preceding generations.
The fifth commandment begins with the word ‘Honor’ (Hebrew: כַּבֵּ֥ד – kabed). The Hebrew root is kaf-bet-dalet (כבד) and means ‘honor, respect, glorify’. It also means ‘to be weighty or heavy’. The fifth commandment is also the only one with a promise of long days. On this Father’s Day weekend, let us be sure to honor and thank our father’s! They gave us life and made us what we are!