l'ilui nishmat R' Avraham ben Yona Ya'akov
“And Moshe told his father in law all that G-d had done to Pharaoh and to Egypt for the sake of Israel, all the events that had occurred to them on the journey” (18; 8)
Rashi explains “all the events” as referring to the splitting of the Reed Sea and the war with Amalek. This requires explanation. In the beginning of the parsha Rashi already explained (based on the Gemara) that “Yitro heard” refers to the splitting of the Sea and the war with Amalek. Therefore Yitro had already heard this. Why did Moshe need to tell it to him again?
Perhaps we can answer that Moshe’s main intention in telling Yitro was to prove that everything that G-d did to Pharaoh and Egypt was only because of Israel. (As it states in the verse “for the sake of Israel”). In other words, Pharaoh deserved to be punished for many other reasons for example, for making himself into a god (Midrash Rabba Vaera 8) or for saying “Who is G-d?” (Exodus 5; 2) and many other sins. So too the Egyptians, who worshipped the sheep as idols. Despite these many sins, they were not punished for them, but only because they enslaved the Israelites and worked them overmuch. This is the meaning of “For the sake of Israel”.
This also explains what Rashi wrote (based on the Mechilta) on the verse “Moshe told his father in law” – in order to draw his heart close to Torah. At first sight it doesn’t seem obvious where this is hinted at in the verse. However, based on what we have written, that Moshe’s narration was in order to show that everything was done only for Israel, we understand that through this Yitro’s heart would be drawn closer to the G-d of Israel.
“Honour your father and your mother” (20; 12)
But there is no commandment to love one’s parents. The reason is obvious, since love is something which is dependent on the feelings of one’s heart, and if the heart does not have feelings of love, commanding to do so will not help. Only honouring can be commnaded, since this is based on actions. Commandments can apply to actions even if there is no emotional love. This is what the Talmud tells us (Kiddushin 31b) ‘How does one fulfil the Mitzvah of honouring parents? By feeding them, giving them drink, dressing them, helping them go in and come out…’ The Talmud only lists things which are possible to do even without any feelings of love, and are only performed because of the obligation and the Mitzvah.
This is also the meaning of Hillel’s answer to the convert (Shabbat 31a). When he summarised the entire Torah in one statement he did not cite the verse “You shall love your fellow as yourself”, but rather used the phrase ‘that which you don’t like, don’t do to others’. It is not clear why he chose not to use the words of the verse which are simpler. Perhaps we can say that since love is dependent on emotion, and it is impossible to command on emotion, therefore Hillel explained it as not doing actions which are hurtful or hateful. It is possible to command someone about that.
Using this explanation we can explain the Talmud in Yoma (86a) which explains the verse “You shall love the L-rd your G-d” – do things that will cause G-d’s name to become beloved through your actions. If a person learns Tanach, Mishna and Talmud, and their business dealings are honest and pleasant, and they are nice to other people, people will say about them ‘Happy is the fatehr who taught him Torah, happy is the teacher who taught him Torah, woe to those who do not learn Torah. Look at this person, who has learnt Torah, how pleasant are his ways, how perfect are his actions etc.’
It is not clear how the Talmud derives all of this from the verse “You shall love G-d...” It is also not readily apparent as to why the Talmud changed from the simple meaning of love – ‘desire and yearning’ to the concept of ‘making G-d’s name beloved through your actions’.
Based on what we have said, that it is impossible to command about love, we understand that the verse cannot be talking about emotional feelings. If a person does not have feelings of love for G-d, nevertheless they can be commanded regarding their actions.
Using this understanding we can also understand what the Rama wrote in Yoreh Deah (Hilchot Kibud Av – end of 240) in the name of the Maharik. If a son wants to marry someone, and the father protests against his choice of spouse, the son is not obligated to listen to his father. It is not clear why the son does not have to listen to the father in this matter. Look there at the explanation of the Vilna Gaon.
According to what we have written, the explanation is simple. The son loves this woman, and the love comes from emotional feelings. Emotions cannot be held accountable to commandments. Therefore the father has no rights of ‘honour’ in this matter. (Look also at what we wrote at the end of Parshat Toledot about this).
The Talmud (Kiddushin 31b) teaches: It was taught in a Baraita, honour your father during his lifetime and after his death. How does one honour after death? If the son says Torah in the name of his father he should not say ‘This is what my father said’, but rather ‘this is what my father, my teacher said, and may I be atonement for his death’. This is within 12 months. After 12 months the son should say ‘May he be remembered for blessing and eternal life’. Look in Yoreh Deah (240; 13) that this Halacha applies also after his mother’s death, and also when he writes about his parents he must use these phrases.
Look at the Yerushalmi (Kiddushin 1; 7): ‘Rabbi Avin said, “I am exempt from honouring my mother and father”. It explains there that after he was conceived his father died, and when he was born his mother died. It is difficult to understand the phrase ‘I am exempt’, since he is still obligated in the honour that applies after the death of parents. We must say that he only means those aspects of honour that apply during the parents’ lifetime, but not those that still apply after death. When he says ‘exempt’ he must be referring only to a partial exemption, from the aspects of honour that require effort and actions. But not from the honour that is through mentioning their names with respect.