Question: May a child name-drop his famous and respected parent in order to receive a promotion or honor?
Short Answer: If a child is going to mention his own reputation/name in order to receive a promotion or honor, he should instead mention his parent’s name, assuming his parent is respected, as this gives the parent the honor.
I. Kibud Through Words
The Gemara (Kiddushin 31b), according to the explanation of Rashi, states that a child must honor his parent both during and after the parent’s life. How does one honor his parent during the parent’s life? By crediting any honor he receives to his parent’s merit [in other words, accepting an award or promotion to the merit of his father or mother].
As an aside, the Ateres Shmuel (siman 11) cites the Iyun Yaakov who comments that the Gemara doesn’t list a more classic example of honoring a parent in the parent’s lifetime, such as feeding the parent, because the Gemara is highlighting that a child must honor a parent even if the child is not in front of the parent (i.e., he is speaking with a third party).
This ruling in the Gemara is codified in the Rambam (Mamrim 6:4), the Tur (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:6) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:6). Notably, the Tur adds that if the parent is less respected than the child, the child should not mention the parent, as doing so is degrading to the parent because the favor/honor is not really being done in the parent’s merit.
II. Unclear If Parent Is Respected
What about where it is unknown whether the parent is respected or not – should the child still mention the parent’s name when requesting a promotion/honor?
The Taz (ibid, 8) rules that as long as the child does not know for sure that the parent is reviled, the child should mention the parent’s name, as this brings the parent honor. The Shach (ibid, 8), however, cites the P’rishah who rules that, in this situation, the child can choose whether he wants to mention his parent’s merit or not. The Yosher Hori (siman 4) collects numerous Acharonim who rule like the Shach, including the Chayei Adam and the Aruch HaShulchan.
III. Mentioning No One At All
What about where the child would otherwise not use even his own “pull”/name recognition to advance or receive the honor? In other words, must a child mention his parent’s merit/honor where the son otherwise would apply anonymously or without using his own “pull”?
The Nachalas Tzvi (on the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei’ah ibid) rules that he does not need to mention the parent in this situation. He brings a proof from the text of our Gemara in Kiddushin, which states that a child “should not mention his own name, but rather should mention his parent’s name.”
This language implies that if no one’s “pull” is to be used, there is no need to mention the parent. The Nachalas Tzvi cites another proof from a story in B’rachos (20b) where Rabban Gamliel seeks forgiveness from Rabbi Yehoshua, and only after Rabbi Yehoshua refuses does Rabban Gamliel request that Rabbi Yehoshua forgive him in the name of his (i.e., Rabban Gamliel’s) father. Since Rabban Gamliel was initially not mentioning anyone’s status to receive the forgiveness, he did not need to initially mention his father’s name.
The Ben Ish Chai (2, Shoftim, 10, cited in the Ateres Shmuel ibid) disputes the proof of the Nachalas Tzvi. The story of Rabban Gamliel does not prove anything, as Rabban Gamliel was in doubt whether his father’s merit would be helpful. Like the opinion of the Shach above, there would thus be no obligation for Rabban Gamliel to mention his father. However, had he known that his father’s name/merit would have been successful, he would have been obligated to mention his father’s name at the outset, even though he didn’t plan on mentioning anyone’s name. Thus, the Ben Ish Chai disagrees with the Nachalas Tzvi.
Further, the sefer L’maan Yaarichun Yamecha (siman 21) disputes the proof of the Nachalas Tzvi because the issue of requesting forgiveness is completely distinguishable from the issue of requesting an honor or favor. For Rabban Gamliel to initially mention his father’s name would have been degrading to his father, as it would have involved the father in Rabban Gamliel’s own mistake.
The Aruch HaShulchan (240:23), however, rules like the Nachalas Tzvi – that he does not need to mention the parent in this situation. The Chayei Levi (4:76) rules this way, as well.
IV. During Davening
The Ben Ish Chai (ibid) asks why Chizkiyahu HaMelech didn’t mention David HaMelech’s name when davening for a r’fuah sh’leimah from his deathly sickness in M’lachim (II 20:3)? He answers that, aside from the fact that David was not his father (rather his ancestor), this request was different, because it was not to another human but rather to Hashem as part of davening. Thus, one does not need to mention his parent’s name when davening to Hashem and requesting favors from Hashem. [However, see sefer Ateres Shmuel (ibid) who asks on this Ben Ish Chai from the Gemara in B’rachos (10b), which appears to rule that Chizkiyahu was punished for not mentioning z’chus David].
Next Week’s Topic: Must children follow the last will and testament of their parents?