SALT - Wednesday, 6 Kislev 5780 - December 4, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            In our last two installments, we discussed a number of sources relevant to the question as to whether the obligation of kibbud av va-eim – respecting parents – applies in the case of an evil parent.  As we saw, the Zohar, cited by Chida in several places in his writings, strongly condemns Rachel for causing her corrupt father, Lavan, anguish by taking his terafim (idols, or oracles), whereas the Mishna (Pesachim 56a) tells that Chizkiyahu dishonored the remains of his sinful father, Achaz, with the rabbis’ approval.  Other writers addressed this question in reference to the Rambam’s explicit ruling (Hilkhot Mamrim 6:11) requiring respecting a sinful father, which appears to be contradicted by the Gemara’s ruling that a deceased thief’s children must return goods he stole to preserve his honor only if he had repented before his passing.  Chida, as we saw, resolved the conflicting sources by distinguishing between the obligation to respect a living parent, which does not depend on a parent’s conduct, and the obligation to respect a deceased parent’s memory, which might not apply in the case of an evildoer.
            A different theory was advanced by Rav Yehonatan Eibshutz, in his Ya’arot Devash (vol. 2, 18), where he invokes the concept of mar’it ha-ayin – the concern to avoid appearing to violate the Torah.  Fundamentally, Rav Eibshutz suggests, even the Rambam agrees that an evildoer’s children have no obligation to respect him, but in practice, this is required, because other people might be unaware of the parent’s iniquitous nature.  Failing to respect a wicked parent could easily give the impression of disregarding the mitzva of kibbud av va-eim, and so, in the Rambam’s view, one must respect a sinful parent.  In Chizkiyahu’s case, though, the entire kingdom was well aware of the sinful conduct of his father, a cruel, idol-worshipping king, and so Chizkiyahu had no obligation to respect him.  Perhaps this could also explain why the Gemara does not require a thief’s children to return the stolen goods after his passing.  The Rambam may have understood the Gemara as referring specifically to a case where the victims know who stole the items, and so there is not concern of “mar’it ha-ayin” if the children fail to give their father the honor of returning the goods.
            In his Devash Le-fi (Ma’arekhet Alef, 39), Chida brings a different theory in the name of earlier writers, suggesting that according to the Rambam, one must respect a wicked father except in the rare case when the father had sought to kill him.  Thus, for example, Chida cites from a work entitled Bigdei Aharon that Avraham was under no obligation to show respect to his father, Terach, who, according to a famous Midrashic tradition, reported Avraham to the authorities for opposing idol-worship, so he would be executed.  This explains why Chizkiyahu was not required to honor his father, who, as the Gemara states in Masekhet Sanhedrin (63b), tried to burn Chizkiyahu when he was child as a pagan sacrifice.  This theory would not suffice, however, to reconcile the Rambam’s position with the Gemara’s discussion concerning a thief, exempting the children from respecting him unless he repented.
            Arukh Ha-shulchan (Y.D. 240:39) raises several approaches to refute the proof against the Rambam’s ruling from the Gemara’s discussion of the deceased thief.  One suggestion is to distinguish between actively disrespecting a parent, and refraining from displaying honor.  The Gemara does not require the thief’s children to go out of their way to preserve their father’s honor by returning the stolen goods, but this does not necessarily mean that children may actively dishonor a wicked parent.  Perhaps, then, the Rambam meant only that one may not disrespect a sinful parent, not that he is required to show the parent honor.  Of course, this would not account for King Chizkiyahu’s disrespectful treatment of his father’s remains, though that incident could be dismissed as an exceptional case, as the newly-anointed king sought to make it clear that he was rejecting his father legacy and moving the kingdom in a drastically different direction. 
            Regardless, Arukh Ha-shulchan concedes that this distinction does not seem to be implied by the Rambam’s formulation, which appears to apply all requirements of kibbud av va-eim to the case of a sinful parent.