When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. — Numbers 30:2
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Matot-Massei, from Numbers 30:2–36:13. Matot means branches and Massei means journey. The Haftorah is from Jeremiah 2:4–28; 4:1–2.
“My boy,” said the businessman to his son, “there are two things that are essential if you are to succeed in business.” “What are they, Dad?” asked the boy. “Integrity and sagacity,” said the father. “What is integrity?” the boy asked. “Always, no matter what, always keep your word,” his father answered. “And sagacity?” the boy asked. “Never give your word!” came his father’s reply.
I don’t know which is worse – breaking your word or never giving it – but the fact is that we live in a society where both are prevalent. It seems that the word “commitment” has become a nasty word that can destroy a relationship or turn away business partners. This c-word is not only avoided, but also easily broken. Marriages, once sacred institutions, have become disposable, and breaking verbal business agreements is too often the accepted norm.
What’s happened to the idea that a person’s word is his or her bond?
This week’s Torah portion deals with the laws regarding making vows and promises. The Bible takes the idea of giving one’s word very seriously. And because of this, while much of the world tries to avoid making real commitments, Judaism teaches that we thrive on making commitments – and keeping them. That’s why we take giving our word so seriously. Whether it’s a large commitment or a tiny, insignificant one, we are not allowed to break our vow. Our word means everything.
Making and keeping our commitments gives others confidence in us, but more importantly, it gives us confidence in ourselves. It allows us to grow beyond our current limitations, and it helps us navigate through temptations and other spiritual pitfalls. While many people mistakenly think that making a commitment will box them in and keep them from doing other things, the truth is quite the opposite. It’s only when we can give our word and keep it that we have the ability to move and to grow exponentially.
Anything worth anything in this life requires commitment. Marriage, children, careers, spirituality – you name it – all require us to be able to give our word and keep it. What small commitment might we make today? Perhaps, not speaking gossip for one hour, or visiting someone lonely this week. We will benefit not only from performing that good deed, but also by building our self-confidence and paving the path for our future growth.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President