The ‘Real’ Promise Keepers
Most of this portion is given over to the narration of the Israelites in the process of the last stages of wilderness living; the Land is in sight and plans are being laid to take it. The time for maturity was now upon us, a time to consider what we’d learnt and how to apply it as we entered a new stage of our national development. One of the key commands attached to this entering of the next stage was given just before the actual division was discussed: Num 30:2: when a man makes a vow to Adonai or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do. On the face of it, not much connection between the main theme of the portion and this, but in reality there is.
It’s clear that for the basic functioning of a community to not only survive, but thrive and bear long term fruit, is that the words spoken by its members can be trusted. Humans are instinctively trust-givers and we normally will believe what we are told. That’s why con-artists and fraudsters are able to operate so successfully. The whole of our Torah Sinai revelation is given as a Word from God, each command, promise and statement given with ‘self-evident’ conviction because of the One who spoke it. Consequentially when promises are broken and vows not kept, we become despondent and cynical of promise givers.
There is never any disconnect between what God says and what He does, ever. Unlike man, He never fails to fulfil every word spoken. Vows and oaths given are serious and binding and should always be carried out. To do less is to injure the image of God’s own faithfulness which should be reflected through us.
Isa 55:10-11: “For just as rain and snow fall from the sky and do not return there, but water the earth, causing it to bud and produce, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so is my word that goes out from my mouth — it will not return to me unfulfilled; but it will accomplish what I intend, and cause to succeed what I sent it to do.” God brings fruitfulness because He is faithful to what He has spoken. Note this; faithfulness to whatever words are said by us also creates fruitfulness in us and what we do. By not keeping our word, by being sloppy in speech and promise, we will harvest a barren spiritual life.
God’s integrity is absolute because He always keeps His word. Integrity in speech and words creates fruit that lasts. If people have no fruit, no lasting spiritual evidence of change both personally and in the people around them (and yes, that does start in the family and home too), then we are right to question their standing with God. You can tell if someone is to be trusted or not by how they speak and use words; do they keep their word regardless of personal outcomes, or are the words used to give an illusion of personal piety, an issue that Yeshua, and many other rabbis and sages of His day had to deal with. Matthew 5:34 says: But I tell you not to swear at all — not ‘by heaven,’ because it is God’s throne; not ‘by the earth,’ because it is his footstool; and not ‘by Yerushalayim,’ because it is the city of the Great King. And don’t swear by your head, because you can’t make a single hair white or black. Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ a simple ‘No’; anything more than this has its origin in evil. The elaborate mechanisms created by some to avoid keeping their words, promises and vows were becoming an issue of lack of personal integrity, which in turn was creating problems in the wider Jewish community.
The bottom line though is to be careful in making an oath or vow in the first place, and if we do then we absolutely MUST fulfil it. To not do so, according to the Hebrew used here is to bring a profanation against God’s name, since most vows are offered in His name. To break our promise is to effectively say that this is how God is too. Words and vows made are important to personal integrity. Taking a vow, or promising anything is serious; sadly the avoidance of keeping one’s vow became serious business too. Torah gave some credence to this in the passage before us today, that a father or husband could annul a vow taken in haste for example, but the vow-avoidance schemes were manifold by Yeshua’s day and went far beyond the obvious and common sense approach in Torah.
We live in challenging times where personal integrity is low and valued even less. In our Jewish communities we must lift the barrier higher because if we don’t there is another issue that affects us: Matt 24:12 reads: ‘…many people’s love will grow cold because of increased distance from Torah’. It is a sad thing when one’s love for the Lord grows cold and according to Yeshua, its cause is general Torahlessness. This is NOT what we see around us in the world, we expect them to be without Torah; this refers to us, the Jewish community, when levels of Torah righteousness are not upheld as we expect them to be as a righteous community. And this refers to what we say as well as what we do. The erosion of confidence in the Lord leads us to grow cold. Yeshua predicted that the love of MANY would grow cold due to this type of behaviour and this is serious for us. If we don’t reflect and shine out our God and His love, His integrity and His salvation trough Mashiach, then who will? And it starts when we open our mouth.
Shabbat Matot-Masei – Rabbi Binyamin