Love and Logic – Parshat Yitro 5771

“Because I said so.”  I remember growing up and asking the never ending question of “why?”  Why do I have to clean my room?  Why do I have to eat my vegetables?  Why? Why? Why?  And when all other answers had been exhausted, my question would be met with “Because I said so!”  Even now as a teacher, when the students begin to ask the same questions which have already been answered over and over and over again, I admit to seeking a little bit of a relief by saying “because I said so.”
It is in our nature to question why we must do what we have to do.  If we do something nice we have to know what we will get in return or what the consequence will be if we do something not so nice.  Educational philosophy encourages us to answer from a place of love and logic, and “because I said so” is neither of these two.  The “Love and Logic” reasoning teaches that we should embrace our students, show them compassion and empathy, and greet their questions (and even misbehaviors) not from a place of anger but from a place of understanding.  Most important in this system is that the consequence of an action must logically match the action.  For instance, when I slammed my bedroom door one too many times as a child, my father simply removed the door from its hinges.  I learned that lesson quickly.  A positive reinforcement for an action like helping to put away the groceries might be the opportunity to pick the next flavor of ice cream for the household.
The Torah also comes primarily from a place of love and logic.  This week’s parshah, Parshat Yitro, is laden with Mitzvot and in particular, those 10 golden rules we learn to live by.  The middle commandment serves as the transitional point from the first to the second group of declarations because it incorporates both religious and social dimensions.  This commandment also employs the “love and logic” reasoning.
Chapter 20, verse 12 teaches:  “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days on the land that God has given to you will be lengthened.”  Even though the text teaches doing this (honoring your father and mother) so that you will receive that (long life) our natural inclination to question forces us to ask why is long life is the appropriate reward for honoring one’s father and mother?  “Because I said so” does not not quite suffice here.
The commentary of Toldot Yitzchak from Rabbi Yitzchak Karo tackles this question.  Rabbi Karo teaches: “All of the laws in the Torah can be matched action for action.  But if this is true, then the text should have taught, ‘honor your father and your mother so you will be honored.’”  It would make sense to have similar reasoning between action and consequence.  What does living a long life have to do with honoring one’s parents, he asks.  The answer is that one who has lived for a long period of time will be honored.  In other words, the Torah teaches “honor your father and mother” with the reward of long life so that you will be old and honored as well.
The answer here is not “because I said so,” but rather another one of our golden rules:  do unto others as you would want others to do unto you.  We are obligated to treat one another with love and logic because it is only logical that we learn from what we see, from how we are treated and from how we live.  Long life comes as a reward for asking why, but also knowing when to stop; when to go with your gut and when to accept the answer of “because.”  Think about how our world would be if we all employed love and logic, if our long lives were filled with honoring one another, just because.
Family Discussion Questions:
  1. Our ‘ethical covenant’ speaks of holiness and truth.  A core principal with each of these is acting with Emunah, faith.  How can your family employ the faith of love and logic in your daily life?
  2. The Torah grants that long life is a reward, something good.  What will you do with your “long life”?
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