Let’s begin by looking into the mitzvah of honoring parents.
Honoring one’s mother and father is one of the greatest mitzvos in our Torah, making the “top ten” list, the Ten Commandments. It is number 5 of the “first five,” in the list of the obligations between man and G-d. This seems difficult to understand. We would have assumed that to honor one’s parents should be on the second tablet, among the mitzvos between man and fellow man. Why is it listed as an obligation between man and G-d?
The commentaries explain, that “Honor your father and mother” is a segway into the honoring of the Almighty. By honoring our parents, we become cognizant of our beginnings and are able to take that a step further and honor our Father in Heaven. The Midrash goes further to view this mitzvah as the most stringent of the mitzvos, since the Torah compares the honoring of one’s parents to the honor of the Almighty. For this reason it appears on the “man to G-d” side of the tablets.
The Talmud goes to great lengths in explaining the details of this mitzvah. The sages state that often it can be the most difficult of all the mitzvos, such as when one has a parent who makes it difficult to honor them due to their mental or physical state, or when the parent treats the child in a way that makes their honor a true challenge. The obligation to honor parents is comprised of two separate mitzvos. There is a positive mitzvah to bring them honor, to fulfill their wishes, cook for them or help clothe them when necessary and more. There is also a negative (don’t) mitzvah, not to do things which bring them dishonor, such as not to contradict their words, not to do those things which make them feel badly. It is beyond the scope of this column to enumerate the details, as they comprise an entire chapter in the Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law.
Since this mitzvah applies daily, and we are commanded by our tradition to constantly fulfill this mitzvah, it was never necessary for Jews to have a greeting card company set aside a particular day for honoring one’s mother or father. One, conversely, certainly doesn’t fulfill the mitzvah by remembering their parents once a year.
This being said, however, since we are human and often tend to forget that which we have grown used to, I see nothing wrong with using Mother’s Day as a wake-up call to remember and do something special for Mom. It should, further, be a wake-up call to try to do more of what you do on Mother’s Day throughout the year. Furthermore, since many mothers expect to be remembered on Mother’s Day, to not do something special may be taken as a slight to her honor, Iin which case one certainly should bring a gift or do whatever will bring her the honor and nachas she deserves.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried