Parashat Noach: The Obligation of Noachides to Honor Parents
The Weekly Mitzva
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur 02: Parashat Noach
The Obligation of Noachides to Honor Parents
By Rav Binyamin Tabory
The mitzva of kibbud av va-em (honoring parents) was given to the Jewish nation as one of the Ten Commandments. It does not appear to be one of the seven Noachide laws (which obligate all non-Jews). Nevertheless, the Torah and the midrash bring several examples of Noachides who did indeed honor their parents.
For example, the Torah relates that, after the flood, Noach became intoxicated and exposed himself. His son Cham informed his other sons, Shem and Yefet, who took a garment and covered their father's nakedness (Bereishit 9:21-24). Rashi (ad loc.) cites the midrash that it was Shem who took the initiative in this mitzva, and therefore his descendants were rewarded with the mitzva of a fringed garment (tzizit).
Tana Devei Eliyahu (chapter 16) explains the reason that the Torah called Noach righteous is due to his diligence in sustaining his father.
Another example of a Noachide who is a paradigm of kibbud av (honoring parents) is Esav. In the Midrash (Devarim Rabba 1:14), Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel declared that no one was as meticulous in kibbud av as he himself was, but later recanted when he found that Esav was even more respectful than he. Rabban Shimon served his father while he was wearing ordinary clothes and would put on more elegant clothing when he went out to market. Esav, on the other hand, would put on his best finery when he served his father Yitzchak. (It is interesting to note, of course, that Yitzchak was virtually blind and could not discern visually what type of clothes Esav was wearing.) This piece of information is related incidentally in the Torah: Rivka advised Yaakov to impersonate Esav and don Esav's BEST clothes, as Yitzchak may feel the clothes and thus realize that he was an imposter. The midrash then goes on to say that Esav also was amply rewarded for this mitzva.
Although Noach, Shem and Esav may not have been commanded to fulfill the mitzva, it is certainly considered a meritorious act to honor one's parents. Therefore, each of them was rewarded for treating his father properly.
In fact, the gemara spells out this approach quite clearly. There is a well-known story of Damma ben Netina (Kiddushin 31a), a non-Jew from Ashkelon, who did not awaken his father even when he had a chance to conclude a very profitable business venture. The key to the merchandise was in the pillow of his father's bed; the merchandise was inaccessible, and the sale was forfeited. The gemara goes on to relate that Damma was rewarded by having a red heifer, which was extremely valuable, born into his flock. R. Chanina comments on this story that if this is the case for one who is not commanded (in this mitzva), how much more so would it be for one who is commanded.
The gemara (Nazir 61a) explains that a Kuti (non-Jew) cannot vow to become a Nazirite, as a vow that would prohibit defilement for one's deceased parents would only pertain to one who is generally obligated in kibbud av. R. Meir Simcha Ha-Kohen cited this gemara in his Or Sameach, as a final and convincing proof that kibbud av is not obligatory for Noachides.
However, there are sources that state or imply that Noadchides are indeed commanded in kibbud av. R. Shmuel ben Chofni Gaon enumerates kibbud av as one of the mitzvot incumbent upon all mankind. He points out in his commentary on Bereishit 9:22 that Cham was cursed for not fulfilling this mitzva, and this proves that it is indeed an obligation and not merely a meritorious act.
The Malbim also comments (Devarim 27:16) that, despite the fact that we do not find an explicit commandment that Noachides are required to fulfill kibbud av, they are enjoined from blasphemy. Since respect for parents is akin to respect for God (Kiddushin 32a), it follows that all mankind is required to honor their parents. Of course, this merely proves that no one is allowed to blaspheme or even show disrespect to parents. It does not prove that one is obligated to generate positive respect or to serve his parents.
The Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 241:9) rules that a convert is not allowed to shame or curse his parents, so that it should not be said that conversion leads to a reduction of moral behavior which would imply that a convert lessened his level of Holiness. Many commentators (R. Akiva Eiger, Beit Hillel, Yad Shaul, ad loc.) raise the question that since Noachides are not required to fulfill kibbud av, why would there seem to be a decrease in the level of proper behavior upon conversion? R. Akiva Eiger suggests that their own manner of deportment before conversion was to respect their parents. If, upon conversion, they would cease to do what is customary, it would present a problem. Yad Avraham points out that while Noachides are not commanded in kibbud av, the halakha here refers to the prohibition of cursing and shaming one's parents, which is mandatory for Noachides, as indicated by the story of Shem, Cham and Yefet.
None of these commentators cites the Rambam (Hilkhot Mamrim 5:11), which seems to be the source of the Shulchan Arukh's ruling. The Rambam has an additional phrase, not cited in the Shulchan Arukh: "partial honor should be shown" to the parents of the convert. (However, there are variant texts quoted in the Frankel edition of the Rambam.)
R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Y.D. II:130) deals with the concept of "partial honor" and suggests that all kibbud av is predicated upon the concept of gratitude, which is certainly a value incumbent upon all mankind. Despite the lack of an explicit commandment for Jews or Noachides to act morally or ethically, there are obvious moral obligations that apply to all mankind. While the laws of kibbud av which apply to Jews are specifically detailed, a Noachide must only show "partial honor" to demonstrate his gratitude to his parents. It may be added that the Yerushalmi (Pe'ah 1:1) says that kibbud av is actually repaying a debt (which would obviously apply to Noachides).
In summary, there does not seem to be a specific requirement to honor Noachide parents. It certainly is a meritorious act to do so. It seems to be forbidden to disgrace or curse them. It is proper to show "partial honor," as it is an expression of gratitude or payment of a debt, which is a universal value.