A Tale of Two Rabbis

A Tale of Two Rabbis

Like other rabbis, Jesus taught the importance of Jewish core values. One such value is kibud av va’em, honor of parents. Here is the story of a late nineteenth-century rabbi’s response to a question concerning honor for parents and the use of money:

A man approached Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk with a question. His father was ill in another city far away. Since there is a machlokes (difference of opinion regarding Jewish law) as to whether one must spend money in order to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents, he wanted to know whether he was obligated to spend the large sum necessary to take the train to visit his father.

“You are not obligated to spend the money to visit your father,” the Rav answered him. “You can walk!”[1]

Years earlier, Jesus had spoken to a similar topic:

“Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’…But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) – then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” (Mark 7:10–12)

Everyone Jesus spoke to agreed that the Bible taught honor to parents. Then as now, however, there were some legal loopholes that allowed unscrupulous (or lazy) people a way out. Imagine someone that we’ll call Manny. Manny decides to donate his old bedroom dresser, which otherwise could have been sold or used, to the Temple in Jerusalem. The dresser would be physically labeled with the Hebrew word Corban, meaning “given to God.” (Think of labeling your boxes on moving day “for the kitchen,” “for the den.” These items were “for the Temple.”) According to one school of thought, now that the dresser was “for the Temple,” no one else could use it, including family members. Maybe Manny just didn’t want his dresser to go to his parents. Maybe it was less work to just give it to the Temple. Maybe he wanted to appear “religious” and be well thought of. Or conversely, maybe he made the gift to the Temple, then wanted to reclaim it for his parents’ needs – and was told, sorry, donations aren’t returned. Either way, like Rav Soloveitchik, Jesus called out those people, whether the donor or the Temple bureaucracy, for whom material considerations stood in the way of honoring parents.

Perhaps not much changed from the first to the nineteenth century!

*The preceding is adapted from an excerpt from the forthcoming book by Dr. Richard Robinson, The Day Jesus Did Tikkun Olam (Repaired the World), published by Messianic Jewish Publishers & Resources. It is available here. We will be reviewing the book in a future edition of ISSUES.

[1] Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, Kibud Av V’eim (New York: National Conference of Synagogue Youth, n.d.).


Rich Robinson | San Francisco

Scholar in Residence, Missionary

Rich has been on staff since 1978. He has served at several Jews for Jesus branches and was a pianist and songwriter with their music team, the Liberated Wailing Wall. He is now at the San Francisco headquarters, where he conducts research, writes and edits as the senior researcher. He is author of the books Christ in the Sabbath and The Day Jesus Did Tikkun Olam: Jewish Values and the New Testament, and co-author of Christ in the Feast of Pentecost. Rich received his M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1978 and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and Hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.

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