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Be Careful, Don’t Curse Your Parents, or else…

Nothing is more energizing in the midst of Torah study than gaining new insight about the text. I love working with Bar/Bat Mitzvah students because they approach the Torah text with new perspectives that so often illuminate a chiddush (new insight). I relish the moments when the student leads me to discover something entirely new in the Torah. 
This Shabbat’s Bar Mitzvah, Ethan Shanfeld, inspired me when he pointed out a verse I do not remember focusing on previously. Then he went ahead and taught us about it. 
Did you realize that in Torah, there is a verse that states: if one curses one’s father or mother, he or she shall be put to death? It goes without saying that this law is not, and should not, be actualized in any community – Jewish or otherwise – anywhere. 
Then what is it’s import? I’ll let Ethan’s own words explain it:

My Torah portion, Mishpatim, is in the Book of Exodus or Shemot. You just heard me chant Chapter 21, Verses 12 through 29, which deal with the laws of the Torah. Some of these laws, when read literally, may seem pretty extreme. But, I don’t believe we are supposed to interpret the Torah literally. The stories and laws of the Torah, when taken metaphorically, provide us with valuable lessons on how to act and how to be a good person.

Verse 17 of my Torah portion illustrates my point. It says, “Um’kaleil aveev v’eemo, mote u’mat” – whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death. I don’t think any of the kids here prefer a literal interpretation of that. But, we can certainly learn from this law of the Torah. 

I’m guessing that a lot of the kids sitting in this congregation have said something to their parents that they regret. In the heat of our frustration, we don’t always choose the most respectful words. Just the other day I told my parents they were annoying, and I may have mumbled a couple words that I shouldn’t have.

Thankfully, we don’t adhere strictly to the law of the Torah. If we did, I wouldn’t be standing here today. But, I did get in trouble for my disrespectful words. No iPhone the next day. The law, on a metaphorical level, has great meaning. 

We should always respect our parents. They love us. They care for us. They make sure we have all the necessities, and the comforts, of life. The Ten Commandments tell us to “honor our father and mother”. I certainly love and respect my parents. And, as a Bar Mitzvah, I will make an effort to think before I speak. I definitely will not curse my parents.

I asked my parents what they thought of the Torah law that imposes a death sentence on any child who curses his parents. They noted that the law is ridiculous on its face, but they understood the message behind it. They explained that being a parent is difficult and tricky at times. You want to be your child’s best friend, but at the same time, a parent’s main responsibility is to make sure their child grows up to be a responsible, respectful and good person. And that means that parents must discipline their children when they act out and are disrespectful. Certainly, cursing your parents is one of the most disrespectful acts a child can do.

While death is obviously not the solution, there are valuable lessons behind the law of the Torah. We must appreciate our parents. We must show respect. And, we must learn from our actions.

One comment

  1. Michelle says:

    My 23 year old called me out of my name. He says that using curse words is not cursing it’s just using words. He wants to use those horrible words around me and I tell him that he’s disrespecting me. We disagree because he wants me to believe that he’s just expressing himself. I feel that it dishonorers me as his mother.

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