May 27, 2024
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May 27, 2024
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Am Yisrael was at the banks of the Jordan River. The new generation of leaders had been appointed, and instructions regarding the division of the land had been given. The nation was ready for final instructions before preparing to enter the land.

Moshe called the tribe leaders together, and we’d expect him to share a message crucial to their impending journey. And yet, what did Moshe convey to them? The laws of nedarim, oaths and vows: “If a person takes a vow to Hashem, or takes an oath to make something forbidden to him, he should not violate his word, according to what comes from his mouth he should do.”

Why here, and why now?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt”l, in his weekly column: “Covenant and Conversation,” suggests that God wanted to share a powerful message with the nation during these pivotal moments. As they prepared to enter the land and create a new, free society, Hashem relayed to them what would be a fundamental building block of this society:

“The institution of promising, of which vows and oaths to God are a supreme example, is essential to the existence of a free society. Freedom depends upon people keeping their word … Freedom needs trust. Trust needs people to keep their word, and keeping your word means treating words as holy, vows and oaths as sacrosanct … That is why, as the Israelites approached the Holy Land where they were to create a free society, they had to be reminded of the sacred character of vows and oaths.”

The foundation of any moral society involves the ability to trust one another, to rely on one another and to work together for the common good. Such trust can only be achieved when people believe in the power of their words, and the importance of keeping their word. Without that basic courtesy, the building blocks of any society fall apart. Hashem, therefore, highlighted the message of nedarim specifically as they entered the land, in order to stress that this character trait is an essential component in the creation of a proper society.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, we are witnessing the results of this foundation of trust being broken. The hyper-politicized tensions that currently exist in both Israel and the US, result from a lack of trust between both sides of the aisle. The absence of basic trust and respect has led to a breakdown of the very fabric of our society — no-one is believed, and each side views the other with suspicion. Only by working together to rebuild that trust, can our societies climb out of this vicious cycle.

From a parenting perspective, the importance of building trust through the strength of our word is often overlooked, yet is incredibly important. Particularly when our children are young, we tend to feel empowered to be less than truthful in the way that we speak. To note a few examples:

1) We are in the middle of doing something important, and our children ask us to play with them. We respond by saying that we will be there “in two minutes,” when we know very well that we won’t be available for at least 10 minutes.

2) Our young child asks for a treat or a toy, and we tell him that he can have it later — expecting him to forget about it.

3) We aren’t able to take our child to an event to which they were hoping to go to — but we promise that next time we will take them, without considering when that next time might be, or whether we will actually be able to do so.

4) A child misbehaves, and we warn them that if they act that way again, they will receive a specific punishment or consequence. The child does it again, and yet, we don’t follow through with the stated punishment.

In each case, our intentions are entirely innocent. We don’t intend to mislead our kids, and we often justify not fulfilling our word — we didn’t really mean what we said, the kids will forget anyway, etc. And yet, in these and other similar situations, we fail to develop a crucial aspect of the parent-child relationship: trust. We assume the child will forget, but maybe he won’t. And even if most of the time the child does forget, the underlying message we teach him and ourselves is that our word is not something that can be relied upon. This causes a basic lack of trust to develop within the parent-child relationship. While at a younger age, such lack of trust may not matter; but as our children get older, mutual trust becomes one of the most important aspects of the parent-child relationship.

Instead, we must strive to view our word as sacrosanct. We should only promise things we intend to keep. Doing so will teach our children the importance of the spoken word, and the power of commitment. In this way, we will strengthen the trust within the parent-child relationship, and also raise children who will contribute such trust to society at large.

To end with Rabbi Sacks’ beautiful words:

“Trust depends on keeping your word. That is how humans imitate God;by using language to create. Words create moral obligations, and moral obligations, undertaken responsibly and honored faithfully, create the possibility of a free society.

So, never break a promise… Always do what you say you are going to do.”


Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, Rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and Placement Advisor/Internship Coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected]

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