Parshas Yisro, 5778
The Ralbag makes a seemingly puzzling comment regarding the commandment to honor one’s father and mother. He asserts that when we are able to fulfill this commandment, we will then have a society in which people will be able to respect each other. At first glance, it is difficult to understand how failure to fulfill the commandment of honoring one’s parents will lead to a lack of a functioning society. This is even more puzzling based on the Ralbag’s explanation of what honoring one’s parents entails. He explains that a person must stand when his parent enters the room, and serve parents as a servant would serve his master. The Ralbag seems to say that a person who does not fulfill the command to honor his parents completely will have a negative influence on society. How can it be that someone who does not serve his parents at this high level will have such a detrimental effect?
The Chidushei Halev suggests that if one is lacking in a character trait, even if it is to a very small extent, he is likely to end up lacking in this character trait in a major way. He proves this by referring to a Medrash that relates to a story in Sefer Shmuel. The Navi describes that when Dovid was running from Shaul, he cut Shaul’s cloak while he was wearing it to demonstrate that he, Dovid, had the ability to kill him but he didn’t. The Medrash comments that after this incident, Dovid experienced regret, feeling that what he had done was tantamount to killing Shaul! Dovid recognized that both cutting Shaul’s cloak and killing him stemmed from the same lack in a character trait. Therefore, even if he only lacked a small bit of this trait, he was concerned that now he would be more likely to violate it at a higher level- possibly even leading to killing Shaul.
The Chidushei Halev explains the Ralbag’s comment as a further example of this concept. If a person does not give his parents the respect they deserve, no matter what level, he is demonstrating a lack of a certain character trait. This is the same trait through which we are able to live together in a harmonious society by respecting each other. Therefore, lack of this character trait with regard to honoring parents leads to the possibility of an even greater deficiency which could lead to serious consequences with regard to living within society.
In contrast, by properly honoring parents, we can develop proper character traits and extrapolate these qualities into all of our interpersonal relationships to better enhance our society.