Honoring Parents: The Story of Dama Ben Natina


The central theme of “Parshat Yitro” {פרשת יתרו} (last week’s Torah portion) is the receiving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai by Moses. The fifth commandment is:

 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

 The word ‘honor’ appears in the original Hebrew as “Ka-bed” {כבד} and can be translated also as ‘respect’ but it seems that the word ‘honor’ fits better in relationship to this commandment.

 An interesting “Midrash” {מדרש} (ancient Jewish tradition) tells us about Dama Ben Netina  {דמא בן נתינה} (Dama the son of Netina) who lived in the city of Ashkelon (southern Israel of today) around two thousand years ago.

One time, according to the story, one of the precious stones fell out of the High Priest’s breastplate and was lost. Now Dama was a jeweler and had the exact precious stone so the sages of Jerusalem asked him for this rare precious stone and were willing to pay a fortune for it. Dama agreed and went to the room to bring the stone. Then he realized he could not do that without waking his father, so he declined the very generous offer.

The story continues and tells us that a year later, a pure red heifer was born to Dama’s cow. Then the sages of Jerusalem came to his house again and paid him a small fortune for the red heifer. Dama Ben Netina became well-known in the Jewish folklore as a great example of how to keep the fifth commandment – “Honor your father and your mother”