Question: Should one recite a b’rachah on the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim? If no, why not?
Short Answer: No brachah is recited on the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim. Multiple reasons are provided for this omission.
I. Important Mitzvah
The mitzvah of kibud av v’eim – the fourth of the Aseres HaDibros – is mentioned in the pasuk in Parshas Yisro (20:12). The Gemara in Kiddushin (31b) expounds on the importance of this mitzvah, as honoring ones parents is tantamount to honoring Hashem. Indeed, the Gemara (ibid) relates that Hashem resides among those who honor their parents.
The reward for performing the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim is arichus yamim – long life. See sefer P’sakim U’T’shuvos (240:1) who cites many who understand that this refers to long life in this world (and not only in olam ha’ba). Moreover, one who is zealous in this mitzvah helps hasten the Redemption. See P’sakim U’T’shuvos (ibid).
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:1) codifies this mitzvah and obligation and writes that one must be careful to scrupulously perform it.
II. No Brachah
Despite that we recite brachos on many other positive mitzvos (such as lulav, shofar, bris milah, etc.), one who performs the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim does not recite any brachah. Why not?
The Rashba (Sh”ut 18) answers that we do not make a brachah on any mitzvah that can be “uprooted” (“efshar l’mi’akra”). In other words, since a parent has the option to be mochel (waive) the honor and refuse any honor from the child, the child may not make a brachah on the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim, as this is a mitzvah that is not always present. This is the same reason why we do not make a brachah on the mitzvos of chesed or bikur cholim. [Note, though, that the Sheivet HaLevi (2:111) cites the Vilna Gaon who understands this reason a bit differently. Since it is not certain whether the particular honor offered by the child will be accepted by the parent, the child may not make a brachah on the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim.]
The sefer L’maan Yaarichun Yamecha (Rav Michael Peretz, p. 13) asks, according to the Rashba, why do we recite a brachah on the mitzvah of tzitzis – you can always uproot the mitzvah by cutting off the corners of the garment? His son, in sefer Piryo Yitein (Yoreh Dei’ah 55) answers that there is a fundamental difference between these two scenarios – by tzitzis, it is the act of cutting the garment that renders the mitzvah “uprooted,” as opposed to kibud av v’eim, the facts are still there, but the mitzvah disappears where the parent waives the honor. Notably, the sefer Piryo Yitein himself cites the Chida who remarks that the Rashba was only citing another Rishon, but he himself did not follow this answer.
As an aside, the sefer P’sakim U’T’shuvos (ibid, n. 447) cites the sefer Limudei Hashem (limud 57) who proves from this Rashba that a parent can also waive the child’s obligation to fear the parent, because if the parent was unable to waive/uproot this obligation, the child should have to make a brachah on this obligation to fear the parent. This is, in fact, a disputed issue among the poskim.
III. Nations of the World
The Binyamin Zev (cited in sefer L’maan Yaarichun Yamecha, ibid) suggests another reason why we do not make a brachah on the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim. Because this mitzvah is not unique to our nation and indeed other nations/gentiles also honor their parents, we cannot recite the language “v’tzivanu” – we are commanded. However, the Sheivet HaLevi (ibid) questions this reason, because on the contrary, if other nations also perform this mitzvah, we should go out of our way to show that we are only performing it because we “were commanded” to do so.
Further, the sefer L’maan Yaarichun Yamecha (ibid) also wonders, based on the reason of the Binyamin Zev, why we make a brachah on n’tilas yadayim, in light of the fact that other nations also wash their hands before they eat? Again here, his son answers (sefer Piryo Yitein) that the laws of n’tilas yadayim have various quirks that are not found by other nations, such as human force and the need for a washing cup, as opposed to the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim, where all aspects are logical and found by other nations.
IV. Other Reasons
The Ohr Zarua (cited in sefer L’maan Yaarichun Yamecha, ibid) suggests that we do not make a brachah on the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim because there is no time where a child is exempt from this obligation. Since a child must always perform this mitzvah, there is no opportune time to make the brachah. The sefer L’maan Yaarichun Yamecha challenges this answer based on the mitzvah to learn Torah, which we make a brachah on, despite its perpetual obligation.
L’maan Yaarichun Yamecha and the sefer Tz’dakah V’Kavod (p. 184) answer that if a brachah was required, a mamzer child would have to make a brachah on honoring his parent who performed an asur act to conceive him, resulting in a brachah that stems from an aveirah.
Next Week’s Topic: May a child sit in a parent’s seat in shul?