Elan Javanfard, L.M.F.T.
In Parshat Matot, we learn about the concept of fulfilling vows and oaths as commitments to Hashem. Moshe teaches Bnei Yisrael about the significance of keeping their word and the repercussions for breaking promises. The psychological principle of commitment teaches us that when we make a promise, whether to ourselves or to others, we establish an internal obligation to follow through. This principle can guide us in both our spiritual and practical pursuits.
The passuk says “Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes...‘If a man takes a vow to G‑d...According to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do.’” (30:2,3). The Ramban, Nachmanides, indicates that the Torah emphasizes that this commandment was first given to the leaders then after to the entire nation, to allow them to discern which vows could be annulled. If a person makes a vow but later realizes that fulfilling it would be detrimental or unjust, there is a process for seeking release from that vow. The Torah offers a mechanism for annulment through the intervention of a qualified authority, highlighting the importance of seeking wise counsel and acting responsibly.
The Chatam Sofer offers a different approach related to honoring commitments from this Passuk. Those in positions of power must rely on trust and respect from others around them. Moshe specifically warns that for leaders to receive respect, they must keep their word. This lesson was first taught to those in power to ensure that by creating a system where they kept their word, others would follow suit. Kohelet 5:4, Ecclesiastes, writes, "Better not to vow than to vow and not fulfill." In today's fast-paced world, where words are often spoken without much thought, it becomes even more crucial to remember the significance of our promises. Our commitments, whether big or small, should be made conscientiously and fulfilled with sincerity. When we make a vow, we need to ensure that it aligns with our values and that we possess the means to carry it out. As author John Maxwell said, "Your word is your bond. Honor your commitments, and people will respect and trust you.”
Our words shape our identity and values, and when we act in accordance with them, we reinforce our self-perception as people of integrity. The psychological principle of commitment reminds us that when we announce our commitments, we tap into our intrinsic motivation to follow through. This concept rings true for anyone attempting to reshape a pattern or behavior in their life. Commitment is a start, but accountability that stems from a belief that our words carry weight often leads to sustained action.
The Gemara in Shavout 39a "One who keeps their promises is considered as if they have fulfilled the entire Torah." By aligning our actions with our words, we build a reputation of reliability and strengthen our character. Honoring commitments extends beyond personal vows and oaths. It encompasses all aspects of our lives, including promises made in relationships, business dealings, and within our communities. Pirkei Avot (5:9), Ethics of the Father, describes punishments that come to the world for different forms of transgression. It states, “Wild animals come to the world for swearing in vain.” Rabeynu Yonah writes, the power of speech is a fundamental high-level difference between human beings and animals. Furthermore, speech is not just the ability to talk but more importantly, the ability to control your words. One who struggles to keep his word brings wild animals into this world by lowering himself to the state of an undomesticated animal. When we fulfill our commitments, we demonstrate our humanity through trustworthiness, reliability, and respect for others.
As we reflect on Parshat Matot, let us internalize the significance of honoring commitments. Whether in our personal, professional, or spiritual lives, let us strive for consistency and follow through on our promises. May our actions align with our words, and may our commitments be a beacon of integrity and righteousness, bringing blessings to ourselves and those around us.
Elan Javanfard, M.A., L.M.F.T. is a Consulting Psychotherapist focused on behavioral health redesign, a Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University, & a lecturer related to Mindfulness, Evidence Based Practices, and Suicide Prevention. Elan is the author of Psycho-Spiritual Insights: Exploring Parasha & Psychology, weekly blog. He lives in Los Angeles Pico Robertson community with his wife and two children and can be reached at Elan.Javanfard@gmail.com.