Dear Rabbi Simon,
On a few occasions, my parents have called me as I’m about to learn Torah with my study partner (eg via Zoom). My parents are in a distant time zone so not so easy to call them back, but I do speak to them daily. I feel they need some chizuk (encouragement) in these tough times. Usually what I do in this instance is I tell my chavrusa to wait and then I speak to my parents briefly, explain that I have a call I need to attend/Torah learning, and then get back to my learning.
I know one is allowed/obliged to set aside Talmud Torah for certain things. Is honouring parents one of them?
Thanks. I am
This is a delicate and nuanced subject as two important mitzvot must be balanced against one another. In general, a mitzvah which is time-sensitive and cannot be done by someone else does displace Torah study. However, while bearing in mind the difficulty engendered by the time difference, it would be best to tell your parents of your learning schedule, ie times when you have a (Torah learning “meeting”) and therefore your available time is constrained. In a case where you have a chavruta waiting, there are further grounds to limit your time on the phone with your parents, as his time must be respected too.
If the time differential allows for it, you may want to call your parents at some point before you start learning, in order to pre-empt an awkward pattern where your parents find (or feel) that your time for them is regularly undermined by your learning commitments. Or arrange in advance to call them after you are finished learning. As I said, a delicate balance.
I hope this is helpful. I am happy to discuss this further if you like.
Rabbi Rashi Simon