Parsha Nugget Mattos – Numbers 30:2-32:42

Too many times I've said I would do something only to regret this commitment and sought a way out.  Could I redefine a word, find a loophole, or convince myself that since the other person didn't think I would follow through it does not matter?  Yet, let someone do such a thing to me and I am righteously indignant.  Would you be surprised that this is not the vow G-d specified in parshas Mattos?

“. . . a man, if he will vow a vow to G-d . . . like all that goes out from his mouth, he will do.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 30:3)

The Real Reason You Should Keep Your Promises

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This week’s parsha discusses how to take a vow. Then it tells about the war against Midian and its aftermath including how to make utensils kosher. Next, the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasheh ask to have their portion of land on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

Once I read that when diamond merchants make a deal they finalize it by shaking hands and saying “Mazel and Bracha,” meaning good luck and blessing.  Evidently, this practice is so well established that arbitrators have upheld such deals as binding.  In our society, where many times even a written agreement will not be honored, it is surprising to me that the principle of “his word is his bond” still exists broadly in an industry.

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This is how the Torah views a vow:

Breaking your word injures not just another person, but G-d too.

Because it is so important to fulfill a vow, the Torah discourages taking one.  Even in a courtroom, you should refrain from swearing an oath.  Rather, affirm the words of the person administering the oath. In many cases, it's a sin to take an oath, similar to swearing to do something and not doing it.  Some Jews say b'lee neder before agreeing to do something. This verbalizes the idea they will do their best to follow through but are not making a promise or vow.

Remember your mother telling you to look before you leap?  Not just a physical safety rule, it applies to promises too.  Even without a vow, follow through is obligatory. And while vows can be nullified to avoid sinning against G-d, this does not mollify the other person's bad feelings.

If you are as busy as I am, be reticent when committing to do something. The fewer promises you make the surer you can be that what goes out from your mouth, you will do.

How do you avoid breaking your word?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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