According to the commentary of Sforno, a passage in the version of the Decalogue found in this week’s reading supports the idea of an earthly reward.
In the fifth Commandment the Va’et’channan version has the extra phrase, “that it may go well with you” (Deut. 5:16), which does not appear in the original version in Parashat Yitro. Sforno says that keeping this command brings a reward on earth.
He quotes the Mishnah Pe’ah (chapter 1) and says this (honouring parents) is one of the commandments “for which one receives a reward both in this world and in the World to Come”.
This interpretation seems inevitable when we contemplate the entire verse, which says that there will be a reward “in the land which the Lord your God gives you”.
However, it all depends on what one means by “land”. Some of the rabbis explained it metaphorically as the afterlife: Sforno does not disagree but says that the normal meaning of “land” cannot be excluded.
If we ask why davka it is the command about parents for which a reward is specified, one might suggest that knowing who you are and where you come from ought to govern all that you do with your life.
There is an old question as to which has the greater influence – heredity or environment. The answer is “both”. In the normal situation, both derive from one’s parents.
An additional issue invites attention, however: in our verse, can “land” be understood as the Land of Israel?
This can certainly be the case once we realise that the dream of Eretz Yisra’el was kept alive all through history by the teachings and example of our forebears.
Bringing out the full potential of Israel is not only good in itself but brings honour to the generations of the past.