Keeping Our Word (Matot 5776) — August 6, 2016

CLICK HERE for the commentary by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Your word is hour bond, so take them seriouslyDo you keep your word? Oaths and vows in the name of God are powerful, significant statements in Judaism, and can only be annulled through special legal processes in Jewish law. The Torah itself is a covenant — a contract. Words matter.

Contracts have meaning for three reasons: they are backed by power that enforces their terms (think of a sheriff and foreclosure), they are respected for because of mutual self-interest, and because of a sense of moral obligation. Rabbi Sacks argues that a free society ultimately depends on a shared sense of moral obligation. Religion helps construct that moral obligation, that trust between people.

Last week we ended up “off-topic” and discussed kapparot, the custom of sacrificing a chicken before Yom Kippur to remove one’s sins. I mentioned a beautiful chassidic story that transforms that custom into having a spiritual diary. So keeping my word, we’ll take a look at that story, “The Paper Chicken.” And staying with the theme, it is deeply about both ourselves and God keeping our word, and forgiving each other when we fail.