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Commitment is a Scary Word

Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 )


This week's Torah portion contains the laws of nedarim, vows. A neder is when you make a verbal commitment to action. The commitment could be to another, or just to yourself. It is a mitzvah to make sure that you carry through the commitment, and you have broken a negative commandment if you do not. The message is clear: commitments are sacred. If you don't plan to do it, then don't say that you will - to yourself, or to anyone else.

We live in a day and age where the C-word (commitment) has replaced other, monosyllabic profanities. This word can strike terror in the hearts of the bravest of men. Mere mention of it can destroy a relationship in moments.

We Jews, however, thrive on the C-word. Making commitments, and seeing them through, makes us into credible human beings. Commitments make us real. They build our confidence in our own ability to overcome challenge. They help us regulate our desires and passions, and provide a fence for living by what we know to make sense. In short, commitments are where life is at. They make us take ourselves seriously.

The converse is also true. Although not making commitments means you are playing with Monopoly money, making a commitment and breaking it is considered a grave mistake. If you make a commitment, then break it, you not only undermine other people's confidence in you, you also undermine your confidence in yourself. The next time you make a commitment, you are a little less sure you will see it through.

The more commitments you break, the less seriously you take future commitments, and the less seriously you will begin to take yourself. Small commitments might seem insignificant. But breaking small commitments will lead you to breaking greater commitments. Eventually, the fact that you gave your word won't mean all that much to people. They don't expect you to do it anyway. And you don't really expect to do it yourself, either.

If your word is meaningless to others, that is a great shame. But if your word means nothing to you also, that is a disaster.

All of life's greatest pleasures require commitment - marriage, children, values, spirituality, being a good person, etc. If commitments don't matter - or worse, if they become a C-word - there is little doubt that the best things in life will pass you by.

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