Question: Must children follow the last will and testament of their parents?
Short Answer: Yes. Although some disagree, Rabbi Akiva Eiger ruled that a child must follow a parent’s last will and testament. However, when this requires the child to make a financial expenditure, it is unclear whether he still must obey.
I. Posthumous Honoring
The Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) states that kibud av va’eim must be performed during the life of the parent, as well as after the parent passes away. The Gemara explains that posthumous honoring is performed by the child adding the words “hareini kaparas mishkavo” (for the first year) or “zichrono livrachah” (after the first year) after mentioning the name of the parent. This Gemara is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:9).
II. Biblical or Rabbinic?
The poskim disagree whether this posthumous honoring is a biblical or rabbinic obligation. The sefer P’sakim U’T’shuvos (240:32) cites Rav Perlow zt”l on Rav Saadiah Gaon who notes that most Rishonim understand that it is a biblical prohibition. This includes the Sefer HaChinuch and the Yereim. Indeed, the sefer Ateres Shmuel (siman 15) cites Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita as holding that the obligation is Biblical, as the Gemara bunches the obligation to do kibud av va’eim during the parent’s life together with the posthumous obligation and without listing any differences.
On the other hand, the Tiferes Yisrael (Kiddushin 1:54) rules that this obligation is Rabbinic. He cites a proof from the numerous examples in the Torah of the Avos referring to their parents after their death without adding “zichrono livrachah” or other honorific titles.
III. Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s Question
The Gemara in K’subos (103a) states that a child is not obligated to honor a stepmother after the death of the father, as the honor to the stepmother only stems from the father. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Vol. 1, siman 68), however, asks on this Gemara from our topic: Since a child is still obligated to honor his father posthumously, why does the Gemara not obligate him to honor his stepmother even after his father’s death?
Rabbi Akiva Eiger answers that the obligation to honor parents posthumously only applies to fundamental honors, such as adding honorific titles to their names. However, there is no obligation to honor parents posthumously by removing their pain or giving them “nachas ruach” (i.e., pleasure), as these emotions are not relevant to deceased people. Thus, there is no obligation to honor a stepmother after the father’s death, as this honor stems from the obligation to give “nachas ruach” to the father.
However, Rabbi Akiva Eiger adds that a child is nevertheless obligated to follow the last will and testament of a parent. Even though such obedience arguably falls under the “nachas ruach” category, a child is obligated to do so because it is considered “mora” – “fear” – of the parent, and not simply honor. Fearing a parent surely applies posthumously.
The Sh’vus Yaakov (1:168) disagrees. The obligation to honor parents posthumously only applies to certain laws, such as repeating words of Torah in their names and to give them honorific titles. However, it does not apply to following their last will and testament. He brings a proof from the Sh’vatim who required assurance from Yosef that he would not take revenge on them after Yaakov’s death, even though Yaakov “commanded” him not to hurt them.
IV. The Financial Loss Exception
Rabbi Akiva Eiger (ibid) himself notes the limitation of his ruling. In a situation where the parent’s last will and testament requires that the child spend part of the inheritance on other people, such as requiring a gift to certain individuals, the child may not be obligated to obey. Since we rule that a child need not spend for kibud av va’eim from his own money, he is not obligated to follow the parent’s wishes, as doing so would require him to spend his “money” (i.e., received through inheritance). Rabbi Akiva Eiger concludes that the answer to this problem is unclear.
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