GOOD AFTERNOON!! Just a little thought – phone tapping
by a newspaper is wrong and illegal. But the News of the World issue
has, in my opinion, become an obsessive witch-hunt. Had the people
involved in it been less powerful and less successful, I am confident
that the House of Commons would not waste its time interviewing them. We
British seem to take particular delight in watching the mighty fall and
this is no exception.
The portion starts with vows and their annulment. It continues with the
war against Midian – the only war that the Jewish people initiated in
the Torah, albeit with great provocation. The spoils of war were split.
Half for those who went to war and half for those who stayed behind. If
one must go to war, one must do so for the right reasons, not to make a
quick buck. Finally, we are told the story of the tribes of Reuben and
Gad who see good land for their cattle on the East bank of the Jordan
and wish to remain. Moses believes they are running away from the
upcoming battle for Canaan, but they assure him they will fight first
and then return to this land. God grants them permission to keep the
east bank as long as they keep their promise to fight with their
brothers first. I don’t want to get geopolitical here, but forget the
West Bank – if we talk Biblically, the East Bank (nowadays Jordan)
belongs to Israel also!!
The start of this week’s portion is about vows. Judaism is uncompromising on verbal commitments. Your word is your bond.
Apart from murdering millions of people, one of the lasting harms that
Adolf Hitler helped perpetrate in our world is a breakdown of trust.
There was time when a man’s word genuinely meant something. Business
deals would be concluded with a handshake – and it meant more than the
most detailed of contracts. People used to trust each other, even when
it came to money. That’s why Chaimberlain was not as naive as everyone
thinks to return from Munich waving a piece of paper. He lived in a
world where people actually trusted each other to stick to agreements.
Commitments were commitments until Hitler came along. He’s not entirely
to blame, but he certainly played a role.
One of the most significant commitments that anyone will make in their
life is that of marriage. We don’t use the words in Judaism, but we
agree on the sentiment, ‘for better, for worse.....till death us do
part’. When I marry couples today, the sense I get is that there is
another unstated but understood element added to this vow, ‘.....till
death or divorce us do part’. Pre nuptial agreements are rife. Consider
for a minute what a prenup is: a ‘commitment’ PRIOR to making the
‘commitment’ of marriage, as to how our divorce is going to work. I'm
not saying that prenups might not be a necessary evil in our generation –
but they provide a very sad commentary on how people relate to
commitment and trust nowadays. Two people who trust each other and make a
genuine commitment to giving their all to make a marriage work need no
prenup. (Even my Microsoft spellchecker puts a red squiggly line under
So let’s talk for a moment about what the word commitment does mean. A
commitment is: a verbal or written undertaking to follow through on an
action or set of actions, EVEN WHEN I don’t feel like it, I'm not
getting what I want out of it, it doesn’t suit me anymore, I don’t feel
happy with it, I find a better alternative, it’s no longer in my
interests, it’s no longer what I want, I realise I made a mistake etc
etc etc ad childish infinitum almost. If that sounds scary to some
people, it is; because commitments are challenging undertakings – but
without commitments, we play life with meaningless monopoly money.
Commitments, hard as they are, are the ONLY way to make life real and
meaningful. Having run out of space, I'm going to explain why that is
Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt
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