Letters & Thoughts March 2022
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Torah Study vs. Honoring Parents
Rabbi: Studying Torah overrides honoring parents because honoring parents is merely preparatory to recognizing God, whereas Torah study is a direct mode of recognizing God:
Rabba said that Rav Yitzḥak bar Shmuel bar Marta said: ‘Studying Torah is greater and more important than honoring one’s father and mother, and a proof of this is that for all those years that our father Jacob spent in the house of Eber and studied Torah there, he was not punished for having neglected to fulfill the mitzva of honoring one’s parents (Megilla 16b).
Honoring parents conditions us to accept authority. It was for this reason that at Marah—en route to arriving at Sinai to accept Torah—God taught the Jews laws of honoring parents, laws of courts and judges, and Sabbath laws. Why these 3 topics? For the Jews to accept God’s authority via accepting Torah at Sinai, God prepared the Jews beforehand at Marah in accepting parental authority, communal authority (justice) and God’s authority through Sabbath, which recognizes the Creator. Thus, honoring parents is preparatory for recognizing God, as it trains a child in respecting authority. But the end goal is not respect…our goal is love and fear of God which is attained trough Torah study. Thus, the true goal of Torah study overrides the preparatory means of honoring parents.
God’s Refutation of Myticism
Rabbi: The haftorah of Tzav says that the sinners’ bones should be spread out under the sun and the moon and never buried, as these were the objects that they deified. This rare phenomenon calls our attention. What is the lesson?
At that time—declares the Lord—the bones of the kings of Judah, of its officers, of the priests, of the prophets, and of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be taken out of their graves and exposed to the sun, the moon, and all the host of heaven which they loved and served and followed, to which they turned and bowed down. They shall never be gathered for reburial; they shall become dung upon the face of the earth. And they chose death over life for all that are left of this wicked folk, in all the other places to which I shall banish them—declares the Lord of Hosts” (Jeremiah 8:1-3).
God commanded this demonstration of the fallacy of idolatry. For these are the bones of people who believed that serving the sun, moon and stars guaranteed eternal life. But now they are lifeless bones, and will remain unburied as a display that their false gods did not protect them from death. In fact, those heavenly objects still do nothing to resurrect these bones. The belief in star worship is thereby exposed as false. The need for an eternal display is because had these bones been reburied, others might say these dead people finally received afterlife. To ensure that fallacy is never considered, their bones must be on eternal display to show the eternal fate of idolaters does not include the afterlife, and its shows that the sun, moon and stars they worshipped are powerless. They are merely luminaries.
And when you look up to the sky and behold the sun and the moon and the stars, the whole heavenly host, you must not be lured into bowing down to them or serving them. These your God allotted to other peoples everywhere under heaven (Deut. 4:19).
Rashi comments that God’s “allotment” to all nations refers to providing light. Nothing more.
An additional lesson of “God allotted to other peoples everywhere under heaven” is that nations are wrong to assume the sun or moon is “their” god. For God did not distinguish a certain people, but He created the luminaries equally, to “other peoples everywhere.” This discounts a nation’s claim that they alone benefit from a solar or lunar god, while others do not. Teh Creator made no distinction.
One must equally apply this lesson to modern-day amulets like protective mezuzas, red bendels, sefarim, incantations, Tehillim, and other acts circulating in the Jewish world believed to provide security. We pray to God alone, as He alone—not lifeless heavenly orbs, or man-made amulets—can improve our lives.