Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Kibbud Av and the "rationalization" of mitzvos

I addressed this topic in a different context where I cited the Netziv, but just saw that the Aruch haShulchan echoes a similar theme in his introduction to the mitzvah of honoring parents:
"Honoring one's father and mother, being a rational (sichli) command, has spread to every nation and land, and even those who deny Torah observe it because it is rational and natural [to do so]. However, we the Jewish people were commanded regarding every rational commandment not to perform it because our mind tells us to, but because G-d commanded so in his holy Torah..."(Yoreh De'ah 240:2)
Based on this insight, he explains why in the dibros shniyos (Devarim 5:16) the command to honor one's parents adds the clause 'ka'asher tzivcha Hashem Elokecha', as G-d commanded, which is missing in the first dibros (Shmos 20:11). The Jewish people were on a high spiritual level when they received the first dibros and did not need to be told to act only because of G-d's command. However, after the sin of the cheit haeigel when that spiritual level was lost, it became necessary to remind Bnei Yisrael to observe kibbud av not for rational reasons, but simply because G-d commanded us to do so. Is this a polemical derashsa? Sure it is. But I would argue that the derashos of the Aruch haShulchan and Netziv serve as good enough sources on what our attitude toward mitzvah observance should be. I don't think this approach denies that there might be rational reasons that underly mitzva performance (like the Rambam explains), but those reasons do not supplant G-d's command as the motive for mitzvah performance.


  1. Anonymous10:48 AM

    R. Shlomo Wolbe, zt"l, in Alei Shur Part I, points out that there are two mitzvos related to one's parents, kavod and yirah. The pesukim list the parents in different order:

    -- Kabed es avicha ve'es imecha (father first)

    -- Ish Imo v'Aviv Tirau (mother first).

    He explains that a person more naturally gives kavod to his mother and more naturally displays yirah towards his father. The pesukim are stated in the reverse of the natural order to teach us that we are to keep these mitzvos not because of our natural feelings towards our parents but because they are a tsivui of Hashem.

  2. The way I understand Rambam is that there are two stages. At the first stage one looks for a reason for each individual mitzvah, that being a chelek of the kiyum hamitzvah. As a person grows and arrives at the nadrega of Veholachto Bidrochov which results in Kirvas Elokim one does the mitzvah as emulating HKBH . That is probably the meaning of Ka'asher Tzivecha.

    It could be similar to AH and Netziv with a slight twist.

  3. David - What is your source for this idea and how do you fit it into the Rambam end of hil temurah?

  4. The Hil Temurah Rambam suggests that we need to find a reason for a mitzvah. (you reminded me of that one the other day).
    אף על פי שכל חוקי התורה, גזירות הן כמו שביארנו בסוף מעילה, ראוי להתבונן בהן; וכל שאתה יכול ליתן לו טעם, תן לו טעם

    Then read the last perek in Moreh where he darshens al ys'halel hachochom etc... where he tells you all mitzvos are only to get you close to Hkbh by contemplating Him, then he continues - that is not enough but "La'asos chesed mishpat utzedoko Bo'Oretz ".... which is vehalachta bidrochov as he refers back to the 13 midos.Ayin Shom.