Matot: Sacred Words

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Matot

I haven’t had much time for parsha prep this week- despite being only
steps away from one of the most glorious Jewish libraries in the
world- but yesterday I did hear a wonderful piece of Torah from Rabbi
David Ackerman, who does national outreach for JTS.

Rabbi Ackerman drew our attention one of the two mitzvot in this
week’s portion, having to do with vows:

“If a person 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.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 30:3)

As R. Ackerman taught this, he pointed out how this verse deals with
imposing an obligation on yourself, that is, a vow to do something or
not do something not necessarily in reference to anybody else. In
other words, it’s obvious that we have to keep our promises to others,
but what if I make a promise to myself not to eat so much junk, or to
exercise more? (Not that those examples have anything to do with me,
of course.)

Rashi, basing himself on earlier texts and similar Hebrew roots,
compares the idea of “breaking one’s word” to treating our words as
ordinary and insignificant, and takes from this verse the idea that
when we speak, we should really take our words to be completely
meaningful and sacred. If we’re making commitments to ourselves, it’s
just as much a matter of sacred honor to fulfill it as it would be if
the vow was to somebody else.

Well, speaking as one who has promised many times to do many things I
think I ought to do in order to become the person I’d like to be, I
think Rashi’s point is well taken. Am I less than others to whom my
promises are given?

Something to ponder!

with that, we’ll wish you a very late Shabbat Shalom,


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