During a class this week, I posed the following question: What is worse, hitting a parent or cursing a parent? Most of the participants felt that hitting is worse. One lady was persistent, that cursing is worse since the emotional scaring of a curse is more protracted then the healing of a physical wound.
Last week we read the Ten Commandments and the fifth Commandment is to honor one’s father and mother. In this week’s Parsha the Torah states the laws prohibiting hitting or cursing a parent.
The Torah tells us that one who injures a parent by bruising, and immediately prior to the act was forewarned by two witnesses, is taken to trial at a Jewish court of at least 23 judges. If it is determined that he in fact did as was testified, he receives the death penalty by strangulation.
The Torah then states that if one curses a parent and it is determined in court that he is guilty, he receives the death penalty by stoning.
Of these two death sentences, stoning is more severe than strangulation.
Based on this, we see that cursing a parent is worse that hitting a parent. Why?
Commentators explain: The Talmud tells us that there are three partners in the creation of a human being. The father and mother each contribute to the physical aspects and features of his being and G-d infuses the essence of life into the baby.
When one hits a parent, it is usually out of anger and he is specifically focusing on the parent with G-d not in his consciousness at that moment.
However, when one curses a parent, in order to be subject to the death penalty, one must make mention of G-d’s name within the curse. Since he mentioned G-d’s name while cursing, his offense is twofold; it is against his parent as well as G-d. For this reason the penalty for cursing a parent is more severe.
The Ramban adds that the penalty of cursing is more severe because it serves as a deterrent, since cursing is more common than hitting a parent. Other commentaries explain that since the prohibition of cursing a parent is even after their death, it carries a more severe punishment.
Rabbi Elya Boruch Finkel o.b.m. quotes his uncle, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz o.b.m., who expressed, that honoring parents is not only in deed. One needs to feel a personal inner regard towards his parents which translates into a pleasant way one speaks to a parent.
The Talmud has a high regard for the wicked Aisav in terms of his absolute devotion to honoring his father Yitzchok in deed. However, when the Torah narrates the dramatic incident of Yaacov standing in as Aisav to receive the patriarchal blessing from Yitzchok, the Torah points out that Yaacov softly addressed his father, “Rise up, please.” This is in contrast to the way Aisav spoke to his father in a rough tone, “Get up my father.” Yaacov felt a deep reverence to his father internally and therefore spoke respectfully, while Aisav’s respect for his father was merely an outward gesture.
The Talmud stresses that it is more important to speak to parents softly and reassuringly, than showering them with lavish gifts and amenities while treating them in a rough and disparaging manner.
Based on this, we can explain that it causes a parent greater distress to have their child curse them than being hit physically, since the curse stems from an inner demeaning spirit that the child harbors against the parent.
The Torah tells us that the reward of longevity is based on the honor we afford to our parents!