“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).
That is one of the Ten Commandments.

Why is this commandment so important that it comes fifth, even before “You shall not murder,” which comes sixth. That’s pretty high on the totem pole. As a matter of fact, honoring your parents is the first commandment that deals with the relations between people. The four that precede it concern man’s relationship to God.

Why is it so important? And what, exactly, does honoring your parents have to do with living longer on earth? How are those two concepts related?
First, why is it high on the totem pole?

I suggest because the family is the building block of society. If the family is “broken,” crime could follow and thus “do not murder’ and all other commandments that follow it are like the result of having a dysfunctional family.

So start by having your family relations in order.

Ok now. But why will honoring your parents prolong your life on earth?

Imagine that you are old, feeble, weak, and vulnerable, with no energy to stand up to anything. All you want is some peace in the sunset of your life. But you have none. Your children treat you with disrespect: They interrupt you when you talk. They make fun of you constantly because you forget things. They ignore your special needs, and you have to struggle to deal with them by yourself.

I do not know what you would do, but I would ask the Lord to take me as soon as possible. Life would not be worth living.

Now, imagine you are that same person, but that in the sunset of your life, you are surrounded by respect. Your children are there for you when you need them. They are attentive and they honor you.

You will live longer than in the former case. Right?

Ok, then, honoring your parents prolongs their lives, but why will it prolong YOUR life?

When you honor your parents, your children are watching. You are modeling the appropriate behavior and helping to ensure that they will honor you when you get older.

In that sense, helping your parents live longer will also help you live longer.

But why “honor”? Why not “love”?

There is always tension between parents and children. That’s the way life is. Parents have to make decisions that children, while they are growing up, do not appreciate at the time. There is resentment, sometimes even a strain of hate. And parents are not always happy with their children, either. It is hard work raising them, setting boundaries for their behavior, and helping them find a direction in life.

That kind of stress is normal. Not even God can instruct us to love our parents nevertheless all the time.

But God can instruct us to honor. Honoring is not related to feeling. It is related to behaving regardless of how you feel; No one can order you how to feel but can order you how to behave.

But, when you honor somebody, you behave as if you love them, and that is what God wants us to do: to behave as if you love, regardless of how you feel. Honoring your parents will have the same results as far as prolonging their life as loving them. I suggest to you that love is empty talk anyway unless it is followed with appropriate behavior.

Next question: why the Commandment says “to honor,” rather than “to respect”?

In Hebrew, the word “to honor” is KABED, or KAVED (the B and V are interchangeable). The root of KAVED is KVD, which means ”heavy.”
When we honor someone, we bend over, we bow our heads and behave as if something very heavy is on our shoulders. We are recognizing
that the other party is a “heavyweight” compared to us.

On the other hand, when we respect someone, we are recognizing that he or she is different from us and has the right to be different.

Recognizing that our parents are different is not what God instructs us to do. God is instructing us to recognize that they are “heavier” than us. (With the internet revolution and the high tech gadgets, I observe that children feel they are ”heavier,” smarter, more knowledgeable than their parents, and often do not miss making it known…a definite challenge to this commandment…)

Now, should the word in the Commandment be translated as “appreciate” rather than “honor”?

No, because “to honor” does not require a specific cause. In other words, you must always honor an older person, particularly your parents–because of who they are, not because of what they have done for you.

The Commandment demands the unconditional recognition of your parents, who deserve honor simply for being your parents.

Happy father’s day to all.


Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes