"Honor your father and mother, in order that you will lengthen your days"
It had been several years since David had made Aliyah. It had taken him time to adjust, but now that he was happily married, and learning full time in a local yeshiva, he truly felt that he had found his home.
He was just putting the supper dishes into the sink, one evening, when the call came. It was his father on the line. David noticed immediately that his father’s tone was more serious than usual. David’s father went on to say that he had been diagnosed with a serious condition, and the doctors were not optimistic that he would live more than a few weeks.
"David" his father’s voice suddenly took on a pleading tone. "Come visit me. It would mean so much for me to see you."
As David hung up the phone, the reality began to hit. He wished he could go back in time, a few minutes before the phone rang, when everything had been normal. Before his world had crumbled. Somehow he would have to force his mind through the motions of booking a ticket to the United States.
Suddenly, another thought struck David. It was a story that he had heard about the Chatam Sofer. When the Chatam Sofer was already rabbi in Pressburg, Hungary, he received a letter from his mother, stating that she was desperately ill, and she wished that her son would come see her before she passed away. The Chatam Sofer was concerned that his positions as Rosh Yeshiva (yeshiva dean) and acclaimed posek (halachic decisor), required him to remain in Pressburg, and forgo the visit to his ailing mother. Wary of making the decision on his own, the Chatam Sofer asked the beit din (Jewish court of law) in his city to issue a ruling on this matter. The beit din ruled that the Chatam Sofer was obligated to remain in Pressburg. In accordance with that ruling, the Chatam Sofer stayed in Pressburg, and gave up the opportunity to see his mother one last time.
Now, David stood in his kitchen, digesting the information he had just heard from his father, and wondering what to do next. The yeshiva that David attended was in full swing. If he would leave, he would miss out on opportunities to learn Torah. Perhaps his chavruta (study partner) would find someone else to learn with, and David would be left on his own when he would return. Should he act in accordance with the story of the Chatam Sofer and remain in yeshiva, rather than visit his father?
Answer of Rabbi Asher Weiss, shlita:
G-d forbid that David should remain in yeshiva, rather than honor his father, who is lying on his death bed, and wishes that his son come visit him. David cannot follow the ruling issued to the Chatam Sofer, because, although at face value the story seems similar to David’s situation, there are three crucial differences between the two situations:
1. It is impossible to equate the Torah learning of the Chatam Sofer, who was a Torah giant, to the Torah learning of David. The Chatam Sofer was a rosh yeshiva, and the leader of one of the largest congregations in Hungary. Great rabbis learned in his study hall, and all of these people relied on his words. Therefore, it is clear that the loss of the Chatam Sofer’s Torah learning was immeasurably greater than that of David’s.
2. In the past, intercity travel was an inordinately time consuming task. It is possible that the Chatam Sofer would have had to travel for weeks, or even months, in order to visit his mother. This would have caused a tremendous amount of bitul Torah (loss of Torah study), both for the Chatam Sofer, and for all of his students. This is in contrast to transportation today, which allows a person to reach the other side of the world in a matter of hours.
3. The third difference concerns the mother of the Chatam Sofer, who was herself a very righteous woman, and was a recipient of ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration). Seemingly, if she was to be made aware of the ruling of the beit din, forbidding the Chatam Sofer to visit her before her death, due to the needs of his congregation, she would have been happy, and would have accepted the ruling wholeheartedly.
In summary: There is no doubt whatsoever that David is required to visit his father, and should not stay in Israel, in order to continue learning Torah.
(Based on a class given by Rabbi Asher Weiss, shlita, on the topic of "Torah study is greater than honoring parents)