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Thought for the Day: Interesting Case of Kibud Av

There is a joke about a charedi Israeli kid who comes to America and sees a christmas tree for the first time.  He is curious and they explain to him that the goyim use it as part of their holiday celebration.  He is quiet a few moments, then asks, "How many needles does it need per branch?"

The point of the joke, of course, is to remind us that all the rules and structure we have around all aspects of our lives -- that we take for granted as natural -- would look quite odd indeed to an outside observer.  This is not, though, something unique to Orthodox Judaism (as the enemies of Torah would have you believe).  Rather, it is a feature of any system that has real rules that make precise definitions for terms that also have a colloquial use.  I was already familiar with strange sounding cases from mathematics and physics.  From math: the colloquial definition of a continuous function is one whose graph can be drawn without lifting up the pencil; the precise definition, however, allows one to create a function that is continuous at only one point.  From physics: the colloquial definition of work is related to how much exertion is required to complete a task; the precise definition says that if you carry a bowling ball around all day, as long as you put it back where it started, you have done no work.

In halacha, also, there are always strange sounding cases; sometimes they are just thought experiments, but often they really happened.  R' Fuerst got a call some years ago (he made a point of not divulging precisely when it happened, nor even from what country the question originated.  It seems there was couple of teenagers (not religious) who "got into trouble", as the expression goes.  They decided that the baby would be put up for adoption, as neither was equipped to become parents at that point in their lives.  So it was and the two teens (not much more than kids themselves) went their separate ways.  As it happened, over the course of some years, the boy became frum.  (No idea what happened to the girl; that's the way it is with real stories, you get what you get.)  He had married, had a nice family, and was a respected member of the k'hila.

What about the baby?  Turns out that the couple who adopted him was frum (or had become frum over the years).  By the time this sh'eila came to R' Fuerst, the boy was about 20.  What was the sh'eila?  The boy had at some point been told he was adopted and had discovered the identity of his biological parents.  Lo and behold, he lived in the same community as his biological father and  even davened together with him in the same shul on occasion.  The question was whether the mitzvah of kibud av v'em demanded that he reveal the situation to his father, even though the revelation would very likely be an embarrassment to his father and his family.  The boy asked his rav, and his rav asked R' Fuerst.

You may be wondering if there is any obligation of kibud in the first place; after all, the biological father never even met the baby (who was now a nice yeshiva bochur).  Chazal pose the question: if your father's horse is running away in one direction and your rebbi's horse in the other (a rebbi who isn't paid; otherwise he is just a shaliach of the father or whoever else is paying tuition) and you can only save one; who comes first?  Answer: your rebbi.  Why?  Your father only brought you into this world, whereas your rebbi brought you into olam ha'bah.  One sees from this Chazal, though, that just bringing one into this world -- even with no other dealings his whole life -- is enough to obligate the child in kibud av.

R' Fuerst told the rav that he should ask around for other opinions, but in his opinion, the mitzvah of kibud would forbid the boy from revealing the situation to his biological father because of the embarrassment that would be caused.  On the other hand, the boy from his side would need to be careful with all the details of the mitzvah; standing up when his (biological) father came into the room, not contradicting him, not sitting in his place, etc, etc.  R' Fuerst also advised that it was probably better to avoid davening in the same shul because of those issues.

Life is interesting, no?

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