It’s very easy to take parents for granted. At a recent Shabbat meal, the kids left the table and the conversation turned to our families. After one of our friends shared what turned out to be a rather uncomplimentary story about his mom, he apologized to the rest of us, saying that he did not want to be the type of person who did not recognize the blessing of having a parent involved in his life and in his kids’ lives. That moment of hakarat ha-tov made a deep impression on me.

In the course of the Torah’s census in this week’s parasha of Bemidbar, it reminds us that Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu died when they brought a “strange fire,” an esh zara, somewhat strangely adding u-banim lo hayu lahem, “they did not have children.” The Talmud in Yevamot explains that if Nadav and Avihu had been parents, they would not have been put to death. Rabbi Yosef Leib Sofer in his Yalkut Sofer explains this means that sometimes God withholds punishments from parents who deserve them simply because they have children to raise in the ways of Torah.

Rabbi Shimon Sofer in his Shir Ma’on similarly cites the Midrash that Nadav and Avihu had little respect for their father and their uncle Moshe. The very reason why Nadav and Avihu had no respect — which in turn led to their bringing the esh zara — was because they had no children. When one has children, explains the Shir Ma’on, one understands that one must respect one’s own parents; one also understands to respect Hashem, who is everyone’s parent. Many of us have the beautiful custom of reciting this special prayer composed by the Shelah HaKadosh, Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, on behalf of one’s children and grandchildren. Some say it on erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan; but Shavuot, the holiday of Matan Torah, is certainly an excellent time to recite it as well. It’s also a wonderful time to focus on our own parents. For those of us blessed to still have our parents with us — and some of us are blessed to literally have them with us, perhaps on this yom tov weekend — we have much to appreciate, and potentially ideal moments of modeling kibud av va-em for our own children.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.