Sign In Forgot Password

The  commandment to  honour - Laurence Turner

Having recently completed the Reform Judaism lay leaders course, I now find myself presenting my first sermon; not only my first, but Parasha Yitro and the Ten commandments.

For the D’var Torah module, it was explained how each sermon should have an introductory element a main message and then a conclusion. Not too short, and not too long and definitely not more than half an hour!   

Pretty simple really.   So how to begin?

Its an obvious choice to pick up on one of the Ten commandments, but which one?

We are already carrying out the fourth commandment Zachor et yom ha Shabbat le’kadsho – remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy so, Instead, I’m picking up from the fifth commandment,

kabed et avicha v'et imecha


Show Kavod to your father and your mother.  This commandment is placed at no. 5, before do not murder, do not steal, and, if we think about the timing, it’s a time when the Israelites have been wandering in the desert for 4o years after 400 years of slavery. Parents were not renowned for providing very much for their children at all.  I can’t imagine too many children hearing the immortal words that I heard as a youngster (or indeed, that my children have heard from me).. “Whilst you are living under my roof, you will do as I say!” or maybe “Whilst you are living under my tent... So why is this commandment so high in the list? 

It is there because our parents gave life to us.  The Talmud teaches that our existence is made up because of our parents and God, and therefore Kavoding our parents shows Kavod to God.

So how do we show Kavod?  

Firstly, I feel that its important to say that I have found 3 different meanings for the word Kavod.  Honour, Respect and dignity. 

Who can forget Beattie, the PROUD Jewish mum played by Maureen Lipman in the iconic 1980s BT advert, made us kvell when she appeared on our screens. We recognised our own parents in her.

 In the 1980s advert, Beattie was honoured when her son got an ology.  He’d worked hard at college for, what he thought was himself, but, without realising it, the greatest honour was that that was felt by his mother.  And so the same can be said to our b’nei mitzvot students.  The nachas and kvelling that they bring on to their parents is worth all of the hard work that they put into their studies. 

There is much halachic literature on honouring or respecting our parents. The issue is a serious matter for study. We are forbidden to address them by their first names, which is disrespectful. We must not sit in their seats at home. We must obey them and not dispute them in worldly matters.

We must not disadvantage them.

The Talmud tells of Rabbi Tarfon, who respected his mother so much he made himself into a step so that she could get into bed. He loved his mother, even lifting her into bed when she was frail. When her shoes wore out, he made his hands into sandals to protect her feet.

Did Rabbi Tarfon show his mother Honour, was it respect? Was it dignity?

To decide, we need to understand the difference between the 3 words.  Using a variety of dictionaries, I have chosen what I have considered the best translation for each phrase:

Honour - To think highly of

Respect – To show due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.

Dignity -the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect

Using these examples, we can safely say that Rabbi Tarfon showed dignity, a mix of both honour and respect

Dignity is making sure that, if our parents are elderly and/or infirm, we are there for them, to ensure that they are dressed, to get them to the doctors, to put them into the right care home if necessary and to pay. Making sure that things are carried out for them in a dignified manner.

I want to go back to the word Respect. 

kabed et avicha v'et imecha.  So how else can we show respect to our parents.  Surprisingly there are guidelines on lots of Jewish websites.  These are some of the favourites that I found

  1. Parents should be visited and phoned as frequently as possible, depending on the parent's needs and child's schedule.
  2. In general, be sensitive to the fact that parents naturally worry about their children. Try to send a quick email or phone message every day or two.
  3. If you are travelling, call to let them know that you arrived safely.
  4. Of course, you should never let your parents feel that they are a burden, or that you are assisting only out of obligation

And my favourite line is

  1. As an added bonus, when your children will see you honouring your parents, they will learn the importance of this mitzvah. That's the payback when it becomes your turn to be on the receiving end.


As our parents grow older, we may find that we go from being a child to a carer.  It is important that we remember honour, respect & dignity.

And when our parents are no longer with us, we show honour by remembering them –maybe by reading out their name during Kaddish or placing a stone in our bowl during the period of Yahrtziet, by lighting a yahrtziet candle in our home each year to commemorate the date, by observing Shiva and shloshim, by attending Yizkor services at certain festivals.  For those we say “Zecher Livrecha”, may their names serve as a blessing.

Finally, remember, each time you witness one of our youngsters standing up on the Bimah reading Torah, marking the occasion of their Bar/Bat mitzvah, not only are they taking on responsibility for their own Jewish learning, they are also taking another step in honouring their parents.

Shabbat Shalom

Laurence Turner


Tue, 20 October 2020 2 Cheshvan 5781