New York – The following Torah article is given LeZaicher Nishmas the author’s father. Dr. Nathan Hoffman’s third Yahrtzeit is today – 5 Iyar. Please learn this L’Ilui nishmas Noson Yoseph Ben Moshe Hoffman z”l.
“Son, don’t buy an American car – they break down too much.”
“Son, don’t buy that house – I saw it when they put it up – too much rain. Poor quality. I beg you, don’t buy it.”
“Son, I’d like you to go out with this girl – she is very special. I am not asking you to marry her – just go out with her.”
The three examples cited above deal with a situation where the father makes a request from his son regarding a matter that does not directly benefit, affect, or involve the father. It is commonly understood and accepted that in such cases there is actually no Mitzvah of Kivud Av V’aim. But, this may not necessarily be the case.
There is some indication in our Torah sources that even when the father or mother DO NOT DIRECTLY BENEFIT, there may yet be a Mitzvah of honoring them. In this short essay, the author will attempt to analyze the issue at greater depth. The implications of this issue, of course, are quite far-reaching.
The Gemorah in Kiddushin (31b) cites a Braisah which delineates the parameters of the dual obligations that must be extended toward parents – “honor” and “awe.” Awe includes not standing in his spot, nor sitting in his seat, nor disagreeing with his words, nor corroborating his words. Honor includes feeding him, giving him to drink, clothing him, covering him, etc.
The implication of this Gemorah in citing only these examples – is that “honor” only exists when the parent receives a direct benefit. It seems as well that no less an authority than the Rashba (Yevamos 6a) writes that “honor” is only applicable when the parent actually benefits.
The operative term here is “it seems.”
Many authorities do not read this Rashba at its face value. Who might these authorities be? They are none other than the Vilna Gaon (Yore Deah 240:36) and the Rosh Yeshiva of the Kaminetz Yeshiva, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zatzal (Birchas Shmuel on Yevamos).
And here is where things might get somewhat complicated. (Some may want to skip this paragraph) The Gemorah in Yevamos had initially tried to derive that a positive Mitzvah does not set aside a negative Mitzvah in the Torah from the fact that if a father instructs his son to work an animal on Shabbos – the son does not listen to him. The Gemorah pushes this off because the request of the father is actually a hechsher Mitzvah, a prep stage for a Mitzvah and not the full blown Mitzvah itself. The Rashba addresses the issue as to why the opposite lesson cannot be derived – that a Negative Mitzvah actually sets aside a positive Mitzvah. He explains that the positive Mitzvah here is not a full fledged Mitzvah because there is no benefit to the parent.
Both Rav Boruch Ber zatzal and the Vilna Gaon zatzal write and imply respectively that even according to the Rashba there is still an obligation of Kavod to listen to their instruction – it is just that this does not comprise the essence of the Mitzvah.
Indeed, this is the actual position of Rashi in Bava Metziah 32a – that the Mitzvah exists even in matters where the father has no benefit. The Ritvah, in fact, cites Rashi in this vein and then disagrees with him. We see, therefore, that not only is the issue a debate among the Rishonim, but, as noted earlier, there is a debate as to what the actual position of some of the Rishonim actually is.
The Responsa BeTzail haChochma (YD Vol. II #55), written by Rabbi Betzalel Stern z”l – older brother of the previous Debreciner Rav, derives from the wording of the Rashba that a Rabbinic Mitzvah does exist – albeit not a Torah Mitzvah. When the Rashba uses the words “there is no asseh from the Torah” – the implication is that a Rabbinic Mitzvah does exist. Even those who read the Rashba not like the Vilna Gaon and Rav Boruch Ber might concede to this inference.
The Responsa Yad Eliyahu (Responsas #40 and 41) writes that it is more painful to the father that the son ignores his warnings and wishes than if the son were not to provide him food or drink.
The Tashbatz (Volume II #53) also explicitly writes that Kivud Av V’Aim applies even when there is no direct benefit to the parent. The Chazon Ish (YD 149) also writes that the obligation is for a son to listen to his father and mother even when there is no benefit to them, but this is not the essential Mitzvah, however.
Although there are authorities that write otherwise, since the matters of Kivud Av V’aim are lofty issues indeed, it pays to be stringent and follow the others that recommend that it applies even when they do not benefit personally.
This article is given LeZaicher Nishmas the author’s father. Dr. Nathan Hoffman’s third Yahrtzeit is today – 5 Iyar. Please learn this L’Ilui nishmas Noson Yoseph Ben Moshe Hoffman z”l.
Dr. Nathan Hoffman was a nuclear physicist and metallurgist who worked for Rockwell International’s Government Laboratory. He was the chief metallurgist on the Apollo Space Program, was a member of the National Science Foundation, and authored numerous scientific books and articles. He was also a consultant for various government agencies on numerous scientific matters – including cold fusion, President Reagan’s “Star Wars” Program, and nuclear arms proliferation. He passed away on 5 Iyar 5768.