Honor Thy Father and Mother
There are certain mitzvos that all civilized people can understand and appreciate. One such mitzvah is that of honoring one's father and mother. While there are certain particulars to the mitzvah which are distinctly Jewish, the general concept is one accepted by non-Jews, too. Indeed, when the Talmud sought to find an example of one who observed this mitzvah in its proper form, it selected a non-Jew.
Dama ben Nesina was a noble gentile, greatly admired by his wisdom and prowess. It so happened that the elders of his city gathered together for an important meeting, and they called for Dama to come and advise them.
When he arrived they immediately seated him at the front of the table and the discussion began. Unknown to Dama, however, his mother - unfortunately a demented woman who was not responsible for her actions - had followed him and burst into the chamber room.
Before the startled eyes of the people, she rushed at her son and began to beat and slap him. The noble Dama, with perfect respect, never raised his hand against his mother, merely pleading, "Mother, have pity and allow me to take you home."
When the rabbis heard of this remarkable self restraint and honor of his mother they proclaimed to all, "If you wish to understand how far the mitzvah of honoring one's parents extends, come learn from Dama ben Nesina."
The Precious Stone
The rabbis had yet another occasion to admire the respect Dama ben Nesina had for his parents. It was during the period of the Second Temple, and the High Priest was garbed in his holy garments as specified in the Torah. There arose a need for a precious stone to be placed in the High Priest's breastplate and the rabbis heard that Dama owned a beautiful gem.
Hurrying to his home they were greeted by the noble Dama, "Welcome, great rabbis. What has happened that you honor me with your presence in my home?"
"Noble Dama," the rabbis replied, "we have need of a precious gem that is in your possession, for the High Priest. We are prepared to give you 1,000 gold she for it."
"I will gladly sell you the gem," replied Dama. "Allow me to get it from the next room."
The Father is Sleeping
Entering the next room, Dama saw that his father was fast asleep on the couch and one of his feet was resting on top of the chest, in which the gem was contained. Dama was faced with the choice of awakening his father or missing the opportunity to sell the gem.
Making sure. he did not awaken his father, he returned to the room where the rabbis sat and said, "Learned rabbis, I am afraid that I cannot sell you the gem."
The rabbis, thinking that he wished to get a higher price for the gem, said, "We must have the gem and we are prepared to offer you ten times what we offered you before. Here are 10,000 gold shekel if you will let us have the gem immediately."
"No, no," protested Dama. "You do not understand; I cannot give you that gem because my father is sleeping on the chest in which it lies. I would not awaken him if you were to give me an entire household of gold and silver."
The Father Awakens
At that moment, the father awoke from his sleep and entered the room.
"Father," cried Dama, "you are up. Now I can get the gem and sell it to the rabbis."
Going into the other room, Dama got the gem and handed it to the rabbis.
"We thank you for the gem," they said. "Here are 10,000 gold shekel."
"Take back 9,000 of the money," said Dama. "I originally agreed to sell it for 1,000 shekel. The reason why you added the rest was because I would not awaken my father. Heaven forbid that I should sell the honor and respect of my father for 9,000 shekel."
The Red Cow
The Almighty did not allow Dama to go unrewarded. The next year, he was blessed with the birth of a perfect red cow among his cattle. The rabbis heard of this and hastened to buy it, for the red cow was vital in the days of the Temple, when the laws of purity were daily matters of practice.
They were so overjoyed to find a red cow that they gladly paid Dama 10,000 shekel for his cow. When the people heard this they said, "The duty of honoring one's parents is truly great in the eyes of the Almighty. Therefore did He bless Dama ben Nesina."
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Page last updated - 07/03/2009