Am I obligated to care for her?
Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin,
Thank you so much for all the content you create and in particular the podcast. It really helped me to grow as a person and to develop the 5 Fs. My question is: Is there any exception to the rule of honoring your parents?
I’ll explain myself. I totally agree with the commandment itself however if somebody was raised by another family member or adoptive parents does the person still have an obligation towards their biological parents? For example, I was raised by my beloved grandma as my mother was emotionally and physically abusive and my late father had very ill health. I did take care of my father and grandma till they passed away.
Unfortunately, my mother is still very abusive and sometimes I feel unsafe in her presence. I feel so heartbroken as I want to follow God’s Word but I am also concerned about my safety. I really value your wisdom. Thanks in advance.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all had parents and teachers who were easy to love and respect? We’re glad that your grandmother took you in and hope you enjoyed many years of her affection. You sound like an upright and dedicated woman, caring not only for your grandmother but your ill father as well.
Not knowing you or your mother, we can only answer in general terms. God’s word gives us guidance but if we only look at the surface words, we will find it difficult to know what to do. Sometimes, two verses seem to contradict one another. Here are two examples.
Deuteronomy 5:12 instructs us to “guard” the Sabbath. A few verses earlier, Deuteronomy 4:15 instructs us to “guard” our lives. If a woman goes into labor, may she take actions that are normally forbidden on the Sabbath but that are necessary to facilitate a safe delivery? (FYI – Yes)
Leviticus 19:16 tells us not to carry tales about another person, but the second half of the same verse tells us not to stand by while another person is being threatened. If you know that, for example, your friend is about to hire an individual with a drug problem, do you share that information (to stop a threat to your friend’s business) or do you stay quiet (not to be a gossip)?
Ancient Jewish wisdom guides wise leaders through the centuries in resolving these perplexing problems. In your specific case, you are obligated in the 5th Commandment whether or not your mother raised you herself. She is the physical source of your life. Yet, you also have an obligation to protect your own life, not only physically, but also mentally.
In general, you cannot walk away from ensuring that your mother is cared for, but neither do you have an obligation to personally provide that care or even to impoverish yourself in order to meet her needs. Remember, the 5th Commandment does not ask us to love or even like our parents; it does require us to honor them. Chiefly and at a minimum, that means ensuring they are able to live and avoiding arguments and fights with them.
Doing the right thing means that even as you are sad that your mother is mentally unstable, you can sleep with a clear conscience at night.
We bless that you merit to build a loving home of your own,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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