Sunday, July 15, 2012

Promises, Promises

As we approach the end of the Book of Numbers, Parashat Mattot-Massai opens up by emphasizing the importance of the vows and promises that we make.  We learn that the power of the word is “All Powerful”, and we must think carefully about how we use those words.  In the first verses of the Parashat, we read that any pledge that a man makes in the presence of God can be fulfilled.  However, a pledge or oath made by a woman can be overruled by her father if she lives in his house, or by her husband if she is married.  Why is it that a husband or father be allowed to actually cancel a woman’s vow? While a young woman still lived at home, her father was responsible for her. If she failed to keep her vow, her father was punished.  When a woman married, her husband became responsible.  He was punished if she failed to keep her vow. For that reason, a husband or father had the right to cancel a woman’s vow as soon as he heard it.  On the other hand, if he heard the vow and did not cancel it, the vow stood, and had to be kept by the woman.
These rules reflect another age, but the lessons are timeless. When you’re told someone is as good as their word or that they’re word is his bond, what’s being expressed is not only a belief in their trustworthiness and reliability, but his living up to the ideal set forth at the start of Mattot-Massei. “If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.” (Numbers 30:3) Words have consequences.  Words can harm, but words can also heal.  And, the right words can teach, and comfort, and cheer someone. Our words, promises, and oaths are only as great as our intentions if we follow through with them.  When we do not fulfill a vow, we have the potential to bring about neglect, discomfort and distrust. 

We must be very careful with the promises that we make, and try not to make one, unless you intend to keep it.

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