Perashat Matot Masei
This week's Perasha contains the laws of nedarim, vows. A neder is when one makes a verbal commitment to action. The commitment could be to another, or just to yourself. It is a misvah to make sure that you carry through the commitment, and it is a breach of a negative commandment if you do not. Commitments are sacred. If you don't plan to do it, then don't say that you will to anyone – even to yourself.
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. Commitments make us take ourselves seriously.
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.
To properly enjoy life's greatest pleasures we require commitment, in our marriage, to our children, in our job responsibilities and being a good person. When we are committed to keep our values, we can remain focused on committing ourselves to be the best we could be.
WE ARE WHAT WE SAY
Moshe Rabbenu made a rare display of anger when he was approached by the tribes that wished to settle on the east side of the Jordan River – Gad, Reuven and half of Menashe. He shot back with the rhetorical question: "Your brothers will go out to war while you settle here?” The spokesmen for the tribes responded that they definitely were not thinking of dodging their military responsibilities to their brethren, and would join the war effort to conquer Canaan. They noted, though, that they first wanted to make arrangements for their families and possessions: “We will build enclosures for our flock here on this side of the river as well as towns for our children [and families].” When Moshe acceded to their request, however, he made a significant reversal in the stages of the plan they had suggested: “...build towns for your children and enclosures for your flock.” This reversal was no accident!
What someone mentions first in a series is usually of greater value and importance to him or her. In making their request, the spokesmen for the tribes first mentioned how and where they would place their source of sustenance – their flocks – and only then did they indicate how they would ensure their children's safety. Moshe reprimanded them about this indirectly by first mentioning the placement of the children and then the safeguarding of the flocks.
And what about us? People can invest so much time, thought, and money in their investments. But for some reason, their children – their best investment in the future – often take second place. Children need their parents' time, interest, and thought. Of course, they also need money. But money given to meet children's needs can never be a substitute for their fundamental need for parental time and thought. Would anybody dispense with putting time and thought into an investment, and just throw money into it?!
It is the naive parent who convinces himself that the child does not know about his or her priorities. The subconscious of a child even picks up subtleties like the order used by the parent in mentioning life values. And, of course, spouses can sniff these things out on each other as well.
Moshe helped the two and a half tribes prioritize by re-arranging their "list." If we can learn from Moshe, and take care about organizing our priorities before mentioning them to others, we will be better parents, spouses, and – generally speaking – better people.
Rabbi Isaac Farhi