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Beit Hamidrash

Matot/Masey - A Word of Respect

By: הרב דוד סתיו

The importance of keeping one´s word.

Parshat Matot-Masey - HaRav David Stav

A Word of Respect

One of the foundations upon which the entire business

world rests, and which strives to create a stable system of

communication, is honesty and integrity. It is hard to imagine a

commercial or corporate system founded on principles which do

not include these. Even a mountain of agreements and contracts

will not help if there is mistrust or in a situation where a person

can trick or deceive another. A man's word is invaluable to the

way he communicates with others in general, and with business

colleagues in particular. The negative aspects of untruthfulness

and untrustworthiness can already be found in the words of the

Prophets and the Sages of every generation, who rebuked and

admonished the people with harsh words about lying, trickery,

and fraud. They even said that "Jerusalem was not destroyed until

there were no honest men left in it." Furthermore, Our Sages said

that one of the questions that a person is asked upon his arrival in

the World to Come is "Did you give and take honestly?" - i.e., were

your business dealings done with honesty and integrity or, God

forbid, the opposite?

In this week's parsha, we encounter a situation where, incredibly,

the Torah allows a person to be freed of his word. Parshat Matot

begins with the laws of wows and liberation from them. The laws of

vows determine that if a person forbids himself or his friend from

deriving benefit from a particular object, he is obligated to stand

by his word, as the verse states: "he shall not profane his word."

From the Torah's perspective, there is no possibility of annulling

one's obligation to his fellow if it has legal ramifications. It follows

that there is also no possibility of annulling a signed contract or any

other act of commitment, even if it is only verbal. The only vows

which Our Sages permitted annulling, based on their tradition,

are those whose purpose is to create a personal prohibition (as

opposed to a business contract). In such a circumstance, one

could annul his vow by going to a sage who would perform the

annulment. Thus, the laws of vows have no direct bearing on the

economic system. Nevertheless, how is it possible that the Torah

allows a person to go to another man - even a sage - to annul a

vow? Why doesn't the Torah insist that a person stand by his vow,

and his word, come what may - just as it requires for business

deals and contracts? What is the difference between the two types

of vows and promises?

Careful study of our parsha shows that in contrast to a financial

obligation or agreement in which a person is responsible to another,

a vow concerns the way a person relates to himself or to God. By

nature, people are often overwhelmed by emotion or enthusiasm,

and in the heat of the moment might exaggerate and resolve to

do things that they would never so boldly entertain in their more

sensible moments. The annulment of vows communicates to man

that the Torah is not interested in holding him to promises that

he made in moments of crisis and does not desire proclamations

made while emotions ran high in a time of great joy or great pain.

If, after full contemplation, he stands by his vow, of course that

is superior to annulment. But if, after sensible contemplation, he

feels regret and senses that there is a gap between the vow and

the harsh results of that reckless vow, it is permissible and even

proper for him to have it annulled.

This does not apply in the case of a business deal or another

obligation to one's fellow. The Torah is very serious about human

dignity, and therefore expects people to keep their word to other

people. We can learn a valuable lesson for ourselves from this:

whether it is toward ourselves or toward others, it is better not to

commit at all than it is to break a commitment.