There is a story in Mark 7:11-13, in the Besora, where Yeshua is debating with religious leaders saying, ” But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a Korban (a gift dedicated to God), then you no longer require him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.” To Yeshua, honoring father and mother meant helping them when they need help.
My family has a tradition of honoring our parents. In the case of myself and my children, this particular tradition didn’t seem to kick in until after the teen years, but its a tradition, based on the commandment to which my family has paid particular attention.
My grandfather’s father died when he was 39 years old. He left a wife and seven children, ranging from 17 years old to 18 months. Of all his brothers and sisters, my grandfather gave his parents the most problems. He always had a cop chasing him down the streets of the Lower East Side of New York, and was eleven when his father died. He went to work selling newspapers to help support the family. He deeply regretted the hard time he gave his father, and went every day for eleven months to synagogue to say Kaddish for him. Of all his brothers and sisters, my grandfather alone took care of his father’s grave, and did so until the day he died. My grandfather was not a religious man. He only took off for work on Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur. I have fond memories of walking home from synagogue with him after services, cutting through apartment buildings to get home. He didn’t keep kosher, he didn’t observe Shabbat, but when his mother-in-law was widowed, he took her in, and she lived with them until she died. To my knowledge, the only Torah my grandfather kept was honoring father and mother and raising his son Jewish. My grandfather lived to be 100.
My father received a Jewish education, but when he was 16, he lost his hearing from an illness. Halachically, he is exempt from every Mitzvah. He was not religious as I knew him. He worked on Shabbat, and does not keep kosher. He made sure I had an orthodox Jewish education, but he had “issues” with God. I watched my father take care of his parents when they became elderly. After he retired, he bought them a condo near his own so he would be available when they needed him. They needed him several times a day. After my grandmother died, he took my grandfather in, and he lived with my parents until he died.
My parents are now elderly. I moved closer to them to be near them if they need me. More and more, they need me and I drive two hours to help them whenever they ask me. It’s not convenient to help parents. Doing Mitzvot is never convenient. When my dad was in the hospital, I dropped everything and spent several days at my parents house, taking my mom back and forth to the hospital, doing some of their shopping, and whatever else they asked of me. It meant rearranging my schedule, and changing plans. I don’t mind doing it and my wife graciously understands that it is part of who I am. It wasn’t anything I was taught, it’s ingrained in me, somewhere deep in my DNA. One of my rabbis told me we all have one special Mitzvah that is ours to keep more specially than the others. My family’s Mitzvah is to honor Father and Mother.
I have a bedroom in my house prepared for them for when they decide to move. It’s what a child does for his parents.