Exodus 18:7 – Moshe went out to greet his father-in-law, and he bowed down to him and he kissed him, and the man asked after his friend’s welfare; and they came to the tent.
Mechilta: I do not know from the verse who bowed down to whom or who kissed whom. However, when the verse says “the man asked after his friend’s welfare” [we have a hint.] Who is called “man”? Moshe is, as in the verse that says “and the man Moshe [was very humble”.] So, from this we see that it was Moshe who bowed down and kissed his father-in-law. From here they [learn]/say that a person is obligated to honor his father-in-law.
Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #8:
It is not readily apparent why it is so good to be called “man” or what new thing is learned from this. After all, isn’t the word “man” a descriptive term used for all people? Also, behold the verse in Exodus 2:21 states “and Moshe began to dwell with the man”. In that verse the word “man” refers to Yitro. [So, how can we know that in our verse the term “man” applies to Moshe? Maybe it applies to Yitro as in Exodus 2:21!]
It appears that the intended meaning of the Mechilta is to say that when describing Moshe, the Torah [at times] uses the phrase “the man” in place of stating Moshe’s name. The intent at those times is to indicate someone on a higher level; one would not then need to also say the name of the person. It is only concerning Moshe that we find the combination of the description “the man” combined with his explicit name. The purpose of the Torah’s describing Moshe this way is to indicate a higher, more valued level of humanity of Moshe. This is similar to a phrase used in Gemora Yoma 18a, “Ishi – the high priest”.
Additionally, the fact that we learn from this verse that a person is obligated to honor is father-in-law requires greater investigation. It is not clear why the Halacha to honor your father-in-law is not derived from this verse. Rather the Halacha is derived from the Midrash Socher Tov from the verse in Shmuel I: Chapter 24. In that verse King David refers to his father-in-law Shaul as “my father”. See the comment of the Tur on Yoreh Deah (Section 240). Note the Rambam in chapter 6 of Mamrim doesn’t mention this obligation at all. This is amazing considering the phraseology of the Mechilta above implies that this is a well-known and clear Halacha.
The Bach, commenting on the above Tur writes that the reason why many legal experts omit this law is because they have the opinion that King David was actually speaking to Avner not to Shaul, his father-in-law in the above cited verse. If so, then that would remove the whole source for this law. How can this be so given the above Mechilta whose source is explicitly clear in the Torah and which is taught as a general teaching without anyone disagreeing at all??!! This definitely requires further research.
Also note the opinion of the Bach in his comment on the Tur that even if a person were obligated to honor his father-in-law, the degree of obligation would not be greater than every person’s obligation to honor one’s elders and would not come close to the level of obligation that one has to honor one’s parents. The Bach’s proof for this view is from the wording of the verse in Shmuel I which he believes implies a slightly less degree of honor than that due one’s father.
However, regarding the actual Halacha, this is not accurate. Behold, here in our verse it says explicitly that Moshe bowed down and kissed his father-in-law and that we should learn from here the obligation to honor one’s father-in-law. Certainly, it is not accurate to say that this is the same amount of honor as is due, in general, to one’s elders.
Editor’s Note: The Torah Temimah says two points in this note that are worth emphasizing. First of all, the phrase “man” is a general term that applies to all humanity and in the Torah is used explicitly for Moshe and his non-Jewish father-in-law. Secondly, the Torah Temimah criticizes those legal experts who skip this opportunity to learn the law that one is obligated to honor one’s father-in-law.