Rashi explains that Hashem commanded us to observe the Shabbos in Marah, even before the Giving of the Torah. Likewise, in regard to the mitzvah of Kibud Av v’Eim, honoring one’s parents, Rashi cites Chazal who assert that we were commanded to honor our parents in Marah. This is enigmatic, since in the parshah that tells about the manna, the Torah also details the laws of Shabbos. Why do they not say, “kaasher tzivcha,” “As He commanded you,” in the parsha of the manna?
Horav Tzvi Hirsch Ferber, z.l., gives a practical response to this question. The mitzvos of Shabbos and Kibud Av v’Eim have one common thread between them: They each comprise an example of the type of mitzvos which coincide with common sense. Shabbos is a day when one rests; he eats good meals, he dresses in a manner unlike his usual weekday dress code. Indeed, observing Shabbos is not necessarily an indication that one is overly pious, because it is a mitzvah that is truly relaxing and enjoyable. Kibud Av v’Eim is, similarly, a mitzvah that human nature would demand we observe. Parents go through so much to raise a child. They sacrifice everything for the physical, spiritual and educational development of their children. The very least we should do in compensation is to grant them the respect they deserve. This is the very reason that Hashem gave Klal Yisrael these mitzvos in Marah, a place that derived its name from the marah, bitterness, exhibited by the Jewish People when they arrived there.
It is comfortable to observe Shabbos and Kibud Av v’Eim when life is going easily and there are no challenges to overcome. What about a situation in which observing Shabbos means great difficulty in securing a job? Or honoring parents in the proper manner demands great expense that one cannot afford? What about a circumstance in which one feels no appreciation towards his parents because he matured despite the miserable home life they provided for him? Does Kibud Av apply here also? Is Shabbos to be observed under trying physical and material conditions?
Yes! This is what “Marah” teaches us. We are to observe these two “common sense” mitzvos – regardless of the circumstances, even if they are bitter. This is specifically why the Torah does not add that Klal Yisrael was commanded concerning Shabbos in the parshah of manna. People might suggest that Shabbos was given to those who eat manna, who have no concerns about earning a living. It was given to everyone, under all conditions. Regrettably, some of us have a difficult time reconciling ourselves to this concept.