Q. Why is the 5th Commandment (honouring parents) listed among the duties between man and God?
A. One answer is that by honouring parents, we honour God. It is through our parents that God gives us life. Parents are thus the Divine representatives and the evidence that there is a God who intended this world to be populated and cared for.
“Honour your father and mother” is interpreted by the Zohar in an unconventional way. “Your father”, it says, is the Holy One, blessed be He; “your mother” is the community of Israel.
We belong to two covenants, the religious covenant with God and the human covenant with the people of Israel. Jewishness without God misses the point; Judaism without a sense of community is possible only on a desert island with a population of one, though even there a Jew feels linked to the community from afar in space and time.
The commandment not only lays down a duty; it also offers a reward – “that your days may be long upon the land”. It is the only one of the Ten Commandments that speaks of a reward. But it is not longevity which the commandment promises, for some honour their parents and die young, and others who reach a ripe old age have forgotten their parents along the way.
The clue is the words al ha’adamah, “upon the land”. What they mean is that honouring parents links us with the past and the future, and ensures that we and our family will continue on earth.
And in the Zohar sense, Jews who honour God and the community of Israel ensure that Judaism will be assured of continuity on the stage of history.