"Honor your father and mother." (Ex. 20:12)

The first five of the Ten Commandments focus on our relationship with G‑d, the second five on our relationship with our fellow human beings. Honoring parents, the fifth commandment, is placed in the first category since honoring parents, who are partners with G‑d in creating life, is synonymous with honoring G‑d. [See Ramban's commentary]

In truth, however, this commandment is part of both our relationship with G‑d as well as our relationship with humanity. On the one hand, we honor parents because we recognize and appreciate the fact that they brought us into the world and took care of us as children. This gratitude defines the commandment's focus as interpersonal. On the other hand, we honor our parents because we recognize that a finite creature's ability to procreate an infinite chain of generations derives from G‑d's infinity. From this perspective, by honoring our parents we are in fact honoring G‑d, recognizing the Divine infinity they reflect.

...by honoring our parents we are in fact honoring G‑d...

The latter five commandments are rather prosaic, even obvious. Any normal society bans murder, kidnapping, bearing false witness, and so on. Was all the fanfare and awesome display of Divine power really necessary in order to convince us not to murder each other?

The answer is: yes. By including these self-evident pillars of civilized life in the Ten Commandments, G‑d is telling us that we must uphold all the Torah's laws—even the apparently "rational" ones—not because they make sense to us but because they are Divine commandments. Of course, we must understand and appreciate how G‑d's commandments make sense, but we must not predicate our observance of them on our understanding. Rational thinking can sometimes be led astray by convincing counterarguments or mitigating circumstances, but absolute devotion to G‑d's word ensures that our observance will remain uncompromised.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, p. 889; vol. 36, pp. 90 ff
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org