Giving Educated Resources: Understanding How Life is Precious
Rabbi David Katz
One can make a solid argument against the Torah's naysayers, that the ancient wisdom invested within her holy ink is actually more relevant in today's Google Universe, than in the days of Moshe Rabbeinu himself. As bombastic as this claim is, and as not entirely true as it may be, there is a truth to this. In fact, what we are after as a People is not the dogma contained in draconian religious practices, rather the Torah's brilliance in our current model of society. Fate does come with a sense of irony however, for it seems the further we drift away from Sinai's echo, the more the Torah fills the layman [un-Moses] infrastructure.
Modern man was destined for greatness; while his standard for "honor" is wasted, his ability to grasp Hashem's precious ways shall serve as Mankind's path to eternity. What makes this possible, is our ability to recognize that which is precious, and our current civilization specializes in just that. In a World that has forgotten its Torah, what else is would there be?
To summarize the current state of affairs, the Torah is gone, we have nice stuff, and we are left with empty religious practices that promise us more Torah, better stuff, and greater religion in a World that is portrayed as just a slightly better place [albeit more fantastic] than our current abode.
One of the Torah's agencies of greater living as per the Mitzvot, is obvious instruction of better practical living. Contrast this particular theme with that of "how to bring a sin-offering" and we can begin to see at least two running story lines in basic "Mitzvah-theory" - there is practical, every day mundane living, and alongside it is the holier side of the equation; religion proper. Being that the true religion contained within Torah is not practiced in its normative way today, the default has gravitated toward an emphasis on character refinement and quality life with merit and blessing.
One mitzvah that entails all of the latter, is the esteemed command to honor one's mother and father. To do so is promised merit and blessing, and one need not think too long for the obvious ethical gain in its proper performance. Yet this is where the limitations of a frail human mind causes the divine soul to starve, for questions of reality, worth, value, practicality, purpose, and every other type of existential angst pollute the common sense of the practitioner and places preventative measures on an otherwise blazed trail. The destination never changes, as we trek along through time hoping to achieve a state of normal, but oddly, we always seem to end up boldly going where no man has gone before.
The mitzvah to honor one's father and mother is one of the Ten Commandments and is coupled with an enigmatic signature, claiming that should one successfully find honor, he or she will have a length of days on the Land that Hashem gives. Most often, when people recall this mitzvah, the detail of longevity does not come up, it is thought to be strangely simple to perform [which is then a cause to exclude as being deemed not important or inadequate for further research], and positive Biblical precedent is not even a consideration.
Being that this is a major component when analyzing Israel's main antagonists in the Torah, with cliché enemies such as Esav and Yishmael, who rose to prominence through their persistent honor given to Abraham and Isaac respectively, Torah observance through Judaism expects one to just know/do it - and move on about your living. If only it were so simple, perhaps The Land of Israel would be permanently inhabited and occupied with the Third Temple as promised!
For the purist who seeks the truth and does not loathe the commandments, the Torah offers a complete system that allows one to fully connect with original intent of the precept of how/when/who/etc. to properly honor and in a healthy way. Between the Talmud's explanation and discourse on the subject [Kiddushin 31a] along with the episode of Noah's debasing and revenge through the episode of Noah and his three sons [Genesis Noah 9:20-27], anyone can grasp the true ancient wisdom.
Under these terms the religious element will yield to spiritual development. For one should not seek to honor from a position of moral obligation [that can prove to become an antithetical endeavor], rather from the reality of the opportunity for real evolutionary enlightenment. When this precept is performed properly, the vessel of the mitzvah stands to shine under the light of the truly precious image that God designed and engineered into the fabric of the Torah, reality, and our [created] consciousness. The longer our loved ones are increasingly welcomed into our lives, they become the channel of the ancient wisdom that displays itself through the intimacy of the pre-existing family relationship. In other words, this becomes the Matriarch / Patriarch program. And one must not remember - "length of days on the Land where you reside"; this occurs in the same way as the transfer of Blessing from Malki Tzedek [Shem] and Abraham. Stop and consider this.
The path to prosperity within this Mitzvah is found on the path of its refinement. If "honor" is wheat, we must struggle to make the bread.
The first step in this process is to turn to the sources that extend out from the Torah, and serve to illuminate her words. We have already identified a little bit of this process, by recognizing the Torah's sister story to this in Noah and sons along with the Talmud. However the quickest spark plug in the creative process is to stay on the page and look into the peripheral; the Torah is never without tools of commentary - each serving a specific and subjective function. The results should be an objective model of the CURRENT UNIVERSE.
When on location with our honor decree, one can easily turn to the standard Aramaic translation of "honor" [Onkelos; dictionaries serve to help crack the nut]. There he removes the biased party lines of 'honor' and replaces the context by means of proper translation: from pre-conceived notions of 'honor' we arrive to 'precious.' Suddenly we stand before a slightly new premise, to hold our parents as precious commodities in our lives. The Torah just shifted from its ethical playground of self-righteous beliefs, and the hidden light reveals itself through a lens of sublime reality. As fast as 'the one who changed your diapers' flies out the window, we stand before the divine revelation of patriarchal testimony of the mysteries of life AND IT'S INHERITANCE STRUCTURE.
The Talmud gives account of the nature of the mitzvah in its state of revealed light, by defining that which is truly precious. In the words of the Rabbis, precious is that which comes from a place of dignity, and remains dignified, not having been trespassed by the breeches of indignation and evoked cruelty by life's own standards. Simply, put, do not rob a person of his honor; and in even simpler terms - do not treat someone as an ISIS victim on any parallel [physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, etc.] level ever. Hence, one is to arrive at having a constant state of preciousness in their family life at all times, and in life and death. The Torah is eternal and its message stays in memory and practice.
The moral of the story is best displayed in the precious moments that we share with Noah and sons. Not only do their actions display the ancient definitions we seek, but Jafeth the son of Noah actually hits the nail on its head best, for he achieved a unification with the ambiguous dictum of "length on land" that signatures the commandment on location.
Once Noah lands on the new world's soul, he strangely debases himself through the planting of a vineyard and subsequently consuming its conscious shifting properties. The Torah makes a figurative account of the events that ensued, for his son Ham tampered with the naked state Noah [A sign of lacking honor; and more specifically harming that which was most precious to Noah his father. This is shown explicitly in the curse that comes upon Ham's lineage] and Shem [who became Malki Tzedek - and thus re-iterated this wisdom through Abraham in their mutual rise to Patriarchal leadership] understood the Torah in its most profound state, and thus simply displayed the proper action to restore cover to Noah his father. The readers are without any trail of how Shem came to this conclusion to avenge what was left of his father's precious dignity.
The hero of the story is the third son of Noah, Jafeth [which is fitting, for he would become the Patriarch to Ancient Greece, a culture famed for its portrayal of heroism]. When the Torah's narrative picks up with Shem covering his father's nakedness, and Ham is clearly on the sidelines of despair and guilt, Japheth is on location in assisting Shem. Immediately after salvation, the story goes into hyper focus through Noah's blessings and curses to the sons of Noah; this would serve as their eternal legacy [as Man] and the Torah takes liberty to capitalize in its literary display of events to teach countless insights into reality here.
Shem receives the Blessing from Noah to remain steadfast in his relationship with Hashem, for he inherits the Tents of Shem." In Torah tradition, this is mastery of Torah, the mission of [creating] Israel [hence Abraham was destined to connect himself to Shem; another revelation of turning honor into precious], and to prepare the World for Torah. As we will now see, Jafeth will fully merit cooperation with Shem in reward for his involvement with this precious deed he performed.
As Ham is cursed by Noah stating that "cursed is Canaan" - the descendants of Ham, it is interesting to note the original Land of Israel was referred to as "The Land of Canaan"; later this would become the Land of Israel. It is here we learn of the fate of Jafeth, for Canaan would be a servant of his descendants as well.
Jafeth's name can mean "to make beautiful" and this often a testimony to Greece's legacy it left on Mankind. However his name literally means to "be extended" and he was, for Jafeth was extended into eternity for being promised a share in the Tents of Shem - as promised by Noah. Simply put, Jafeth was given a longevity in the Land that God will place him, the Land of Torah. Apropos to this, it was Ham's curse that appropriated this Land to both Shem, Jafeth, and essentially to the Torah Universe. Through Jafeth's precious actions, his name would signify all that he stands for through his prophetic and holy name.
Jafeth honored Noah, but more importantly we see through his hand what that means. Jafeth has shown more than perhaps anybody in Torah history what honoring one's matriarch/patriarch looks like: honor the precious state of existence. In the end, that which is the most precious, will yield the most precious. God has one thing in this world, and that is Zion and the Land of Israel.
Should He make His permanent abode there, and per force in our day and age [as opposed to the normative Biblical feel to reality] the Divine Wisdom mandates that this is achieved through the Mitzvah of Honoring one's parents, and is displayed through the sons of Noah along with the details of the Talmud [the Talmud's account was through agency of the Non-Jew, keeping pace with the overall theme, that precious consciousness comes from outside of one's self].
The Torah does not ask for nomadic honor or a system to ensure it; the Torah reminds you of what is eternally precious, and attempts to continuously grace you with its invaluable ancient wisdom that comes from having simply been born to those who brought you into this World. For one may be wise, but the precious value of yesterday will always be delivered from those who were there to give birth to God's ongoing story of Creation.