By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Yisro, we see the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. In Parshas Kedoshim we see the mitzvah of respecting one’s parents. In Parshas Yisro when the posuk discusses the mitzvah, it says honor your father and mother, mentioning the father first. In Parshas Kedoshim when the posuk discusses the mitzvah, it says a man should respect his mother and father, mentioning the mother first. Rashi explains this difference in word order by saying it is easier for a person to show respect for his father since the father is a tougher figure. In contrast, when it comes to honoring, one finds it easier to honor one’s mother since she is softer. The Torah therefore is teaching us that one should respect and honor both parents equally.
It is interesting to note that if a father and a mother who are married ask a child to bring a cup of water, the child should bring the water to the father first and then to the mother. The logic behind this is that both the child and mother are required to respect the father.
The posuk in Kedoshim says that a “man” should respect his parents. The Gemara explains that really both a male and female are required to respect his/her parents; however, since a woman’s responsibility to her husband takes precedence when she gets married, she may not have the opportunity to show respect to her parents; therefore, the posuk uses the term “man” because he always has the opportunity.
In this week’s parsha we see that Moshe showed respect for his father-in-law. According to many Rishonim this is the source in the Torah that teaches us that a person must show respect and honor his in-laws.
If a husband requests something from his wife at the same time that her parents ask her for something, the wife is supposed to do her husband’s bidding. The question arises; if a person is required to show respect for his or her in-laws, why is his wife obligated to fulfill her husband’s request when he also has the obligation of respecting and honoring her parents. We saw a similar concept in the scenario of a son who was obligated to bring water to his father before his mother since both are required to show respect to the father.
There are a number of answers to this. The first answer could be that the respect a woman must show to her husband is not a din of a mitzvah but a “shibud” that comes first in the fabric of their marriage. You therefore can’t use the reasoning that they are both required to respect the in-laws.
Another answer could be that a person is required to show respect and honor his parents. In addition, the parents may demand it of him. A person must show respect and honor to his in-laws, but they can’t demand the respect.
Another way of clarifying this query is to identify what category of mitzvah the honor and respect fit into. Showing respect to in-laws is a mitzvah de’Rabbonon, whereas serving one’s husband is a de’Oraysa.
One thing is for sure: if one respects his in-laws, it will solve a lot of mother-in-law problems.