Word for the Herd: Torah from your favorite teacher
The third sentence in this week's parsha is something that most of us try to uphold:
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.
Didn't we already get an assignment like this from Moses when he gave the 10 commandments? How is that different 9th commandment "You should not lie?" Or even the 3rd "Don't take the Lord's name in vain?" And why is it in this portion?
For my understanding, the answer lies in what just happened to the C-O-I. In fact, in general lets say we should always look at what happened in the plot of the Torah to know WHY we were given our mitzvot. Ya gotta know where you came from to know where you are going.
The C-O-I broke rule numero-uno: they worshipped idols. It wasn't just a few of them, it was many of the most powerful tribesmen and leaders who betrayed HaShem. Those leaders may have "talked the talk" plenty of times when it was going to bring about some great benefit to them, but they didn't "walk the walk." And of course, talk is cheap, as far as HaShem is concerned. When he first gave the 10 Commandments, G-d made it clear that the words we say are important. If we curse HaShem it's a major offense. And if we tell a lie about our neighbor, also--forbidden.
But what if you speak something and don't follow with your actions? What if the words were right and the actions were either wrong or totally hypocritical? This is the latest way in which the Torah is teaching us to be better people.
Being a person of action is important. In fact, a mitzvah is a deed. The rule in Matot doesn't say we are forced to make promises, but it does say that we have to fulfill our pledges once we do. And in theory, I am sure we can all agree the Torah is right. But in practice, it is much harder.
There are things we push off because of time, or lack of interest, or simply forgetfulness. Sometimes we don't mean what we say. Sometimes we make promises to get things from other people. The amount of times I promised to be "slave for life" to one of my siblings if they shared food with me... oh boy. Now, we all say things like that. So what is the Torah trying to get us to do?
After the leaders break their dedication to HaShem, G-d is reminding all people that they made a Brit, or covenant, to honor and respect his rules. So they have to KEEP their word. Yes, reading this portion right after hearing about bad behavior of leaders can make us think of how our modern leaders (Mayors/Presidents/Principles Cough Cough) have disappointed us. They promise certain things when they run for office and then don't measure up. They don't deliver or worse do the exact opposite of what they said they would.
And then there are normal people who don't value the seriousness of a pledge. Sometimes friends promise to keep a secret, and they let you down with gossip. Or an older sibling promises to make time for you and then cancels. Or a boyfriend says he'll love you forever and then - well - you find out he doesn't. Sure, there are much more dramatic stories we've all been through, and if you know me, you've probably heard some doozies. The Torah is reminding us how to behave in the best of ways, both just for our relationships with each other, and to G-d, the Universe. Just do what you say you're gonna do, ok?
I leave you with this quote from Justin Timberlake:
"I know people promises all the time
Then they turn right around and break them."
..... He must have been at synagogue when he wrote that song.