Is respecting parents doing what they want (hint) or doing what they command (ask for)

Does a son have an obligation to find/figure out what the father wants him to do?
Or can he just simply do what his father command him?
Or does he only need to respect him in the specific ways written in the Shulchan Aruch yd 240.4,7 feed, drink, cloth, cover, take him in and take him out, with a nice face, stand up before him


2 Answers 2


Wonderful question. You describe two levels but there might even be three

  1. What parents ask for or command
  2. What parents want or hint
  3. What parents need but don't ask/hint

I believe the answer is your level 2 but in certain cases even level 3.

As brief context, the mitzvah of honoring once parents comes from two psukim

The Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) describes honoring as giving them to eat and drink, assisting them to dress, helping them enter or leave a room or building, and in general taking care of their physical needs. Fearing parents includes not sitting/standing in their place and not contradicting their words.

The Rambam writes (Sefer Hamitzvot, positive #211) that a son should serve his father in the same way that a servant serves his master ("We should think of them as we do of someone who people fear, and who is able to administer punishment such as a king; and act towards them as we do with someone we fear can do us harm"). How does one behave with a King? Does one wait for him to ask? No, we try to understand what they need and give it to him. Either because of love of for fear of punishment. From there we see we should do what parents want even without explicit command.

Moreover in the Gemara above that R Tarfon would bend down so his mother could climb on him to go to bed and whenever she descended from the bed she would descend on him. And the Sages said this was not even half of the honor one should have for his parents. It is hard to imagine that R Tarfon's mother asked that from him. From there we see that one should indeed figure out what parents need and be ahead of them.

But there is one more level. To do what parents need even against their command. Sefer Chassidim (cited in Nishmat Avraham YD 240:4) writes that one is not obligated to listen to his sick father who was told by doctors not to eat a certain food if he asks for that food, even if he threatens not to forgive his son in this or the next world. Similarly the Schach (YD 339) writes that if a dangerously ill parent demands to be told the nature of his illness, one may not tell him. From there we see that we should do what parents really need even if they ask otherwise.

See more details and sources on halachot kibud av v'eim here and here although they don't directly address your question.

  • +1 thank you for your work, nice presentation, I do not understand this point "How does one behave with a King? Does one wait for him to ask? No, we try to understand what they need and give it to him." Do servants of the king not serve him as is the costom, as they were trained , I think that if a servant decides himself what the king needs he might get killed, (regarding Rabbi Tarfon's story it is possible that his mother asked him to help her get out of bed that this is the way that he found to do it, for a few possible reasons) so we need to know how a king is served, I do not know how my
    – hazoriz
    Jan 22, 2016 at 17:35
  • @hazoriz well I cannot say I ever served a King. But I think the way to serve his master is to do all he wants, needs, wishes even before he asks, to make sure he is fully happy. I also think that, out of fear, one would want to make sure that all his needs are met. Clearly we don't know but I think that if the Rambam wanted to tell us to do only what the master wanted, he would have said we should relate to our parents like a employee to his boss, or a worker to his task giver. So there must be a reason he used the language of a King
    – mbloch
    Jan 23, 2016 at 16:28

The obligation of kibbud av ve'em is to be to your parent what your parent construed you to be when you were a child.

Subsequently any action or feeling that as a child you would have impulsively done is a chiyuv to do for your parents otherwise you will abnegate that expectation.

See also the Mesillas Yesharim who chooses a son performing the parent's will through a hint as the mashal for middas chassidus.

  • 1
    +1 The source of the first 2 paragraphs is your experience as a parent?
    – hazoriz
    Jan 19, 2016 at 1:14
  • Thank you for the messilas yesharim, it is in chapter 18, but it is as you said a mashal, and not regarding the mitzvah of respecting parents it is regarding the love of a child to his father
    – hazoriz
    Jan 19, 2016 at 1:23

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