You told him you’d go volunteer at the food bank together today, but you just don’t feel like going out anymore. Does it really matter if you just don’t show up? Just because you said it, doesn’t mean you have a real obligation to do it, right?
Words are but wind.William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors
Shakespeare suggests that words are feeble ephemeral things that hold no weight. Words can’t physically hold you down and force you to do things. They are just air.
The Torah in this week’s reading, has something strikingly different to say on the matter:
If a man makes a vow to Hashem or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.Bamidbar 30:3
The Torah doesn’t stop there either. It spends an entire chapter discussing the intricacies of vows and oaths. It comes out, that if you make a vow to say, not eat candy for a month, candy is then forbidden to you in a similar way to how pork is for that time.
In case the significance of that isn’t clear, I’ll spell it out. Hashem created a mitzvah for all generations of Jews forever to not eat pork. And He, the Infinite Creator of the Universe, infused into this mitzvah power such that we get reward for keeping it and penalty for breaking it that extends beyond this world and into the World to Come. And you, a normal flesh and blood human being, can create similar cosmic level effects with a few utterances of your lips.
Hashem gives us the power to create Torah. To alter the fabric of reality. To mimic the work of the Omnipresent. With words.
This is not to say that all these rules apply if you don’t actually make a vow. If you don’t use the correct formula for a vow or an oath, it won’t create a mitzvah for you.
If a statement is only a couple words short of a vow, can we really be so flippant with our statements? If our words have the power to change the world, can we so easily break them?
Say what you mean and do what you say, because your words, are anything but just wind.
Rabbi Altonaga and the JET Team