|courtesy of ou.org|
“Ellen!” The older woman excitedly cried out my secular name.
I was in the dairy aisle of a supermarket in Wichita and my mother was perched atop a motorized shopping cart. Technically she wasn’t disabled but due to emphysema walking and breathing at the same time didn’t work too well for her. The special carts were a godsend. My father and I could enjoy walking along beside her as we searched out available kosher food.
“It’s so good to see you,” my mother’s friend beamed. “Your parents were so excited about your visit.”
Her words, said kindly, caused me to inwardly cringe. I could just imagine what she was really thinking.
Here’s Ellen, dressed like a religious Jew, keeping strictly kosher, and she only sees her parents once a year. Living in Israel is more important than honoring her parents?
Of course, this woman didn’t give any indication of these thoughts. My guilty conscience was simply fueling my imagination.
Honoring one’s father and mother is the fifth directive of the Ten Commandments. It bridges the ordinances between a person and his Creator and those between one another. The basic premise is that the Almighty banded with my parents to create me and I have a major obligation to show my appreciation. Otherwise I’d be an ingrate. I can’t properly serve The Almighty if I don’t honor my parents. And if I think that the fifth commandment is expendable it’s very easy to go down the slippery slope and decide the second half of the commandments aren’t necessary either.
How much could I honor my parents if I was halfway around the world from them? When was I going to serve them, give them food or drink, take them to doctors, worry about their care, and stand up in their presence? As they grew older and weaker my embarrassment grew stronger and stronger.
Finally, I took a drastic step. I wrote a letter to Rav Yaakov Reisman, shlita, one of the most prominent rabbis in America. I explained that I had made aliyah with my family thirteen years earlier. During the previous ten years my mother’s health had steadily declined and she was on oxygen, unable to fly in a plane. My father, at age seventy-nine, was a patient, loving caregiver but I didn’t know how long he’d be able to continue in that role. Should I move my family back to America? It was a drastic action I really didn’t want to consider. However, I felt I was failing in the commandment of honoring my parents.
The Rav responded quickly and kindly. Gently he informed me there was no obligation for me to leave Israel. If I would write, call, and visit my parents as often as I could without disrupting my family life I should do so. I would be acting within the parameters of honoring my parents and there was no room for guilt.
I read that letter over and over again until the words began to fade. It got me through my mother’s death the following year and my year of mourning. Then, six years later, Hashem gave me a second chance.
My father, diagnosed with cancer, was told he had two months to live. He agreed to spend them in Israel with us. My husband and I flew to Wichita for a week to pack him up and get organized. Friend after friend came to tell my father good-bye that week.
Now my imagination didn’t need to be fueled at all about their thoughts. Although they would miss him, they all thought it was wonderful he was going to be living with me. His two months stretched to almost a year. Whenever he spoke to or wrote to friends he raved about the care we were giving him. I was no longer embarrassed. Nor did I feel guilty. I felt by doing the best I could for my father I was not only honoring him, but also HaShem.