Food For the Soul
The Torah portion, Matot, opens with an injunction about the sanctity of our words: “And Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes . . . if a man takes a vow . . . he shall not desecrate his word; whatever issues from his mouth he shall do . . .” (Numbers 30:2–3). The words we utter are sacred and inviolate. If we disregard what we say, we have profaned and desecrated our words. That is why many people are careful to add the words bli neder—“without vowing”—whenever they say something that might be construed as a vow, so that, should they be prevented from fulfilling what they expressed their intention to do, this would not constitute the grave offense of violating a vow. This, of course, in no way diminishes the regard we hold for our words, and the need to carry out one’s promises even if one stipulated that it is not a vow.
Why was this commandment given to the “heads of the tribes”? Surely, it applies to each and every one of us. A simple answer is that since it is usually leaders who make the most promises, it is they who need the most cautioning. Politicians are infamous for campaign promises, which—once they are elected—are rarely fulfilled.
Many books have been published on the subject of business ethics. While there are a great many laws and nuances to this theme, at the end of the day, the acid test of business ethics is, “Did you keep your word?” Did you carry out your commitments, or did you duck and dive around them? It makes no difference how other companies are behaving. It matters little whether our competitors are corrupt. We must honor our promises, and that is the ultimate bottom line.
Whether in our business relationships or in the tzedakah pledges we make to the synagogue or to other charities, our word should be our bond. Even if we are worried about the immediate financial costs, we can be assured that, with the passage of time, the reputation we will acquire by speaking truthfully and keeping our word will more than compensate any short-term losses. Leave the spin doctoring to the politicians. A Jew’s word should be sacred.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“Nine Days” Begin
On the 1st of Av, “The Three Weeks” mourning period over the destruction of the Holy Temple–which began 13 days earlier on Tammuz 17–enters an intensified stage. During “The Nine Days” from Av 1st to the Ninth of Av, a heightened degree of mourning is observed. (The customs vary from community to community, so consult a competent Halachic authority for details).
The entire month of Av is considered an inopportune time for Jews. Our sages advised that a Jew who is scheduled to have a court hearing—or anything of a similar nature—against a gentile during this month should try to postpone it until after Av, or at least until after the Nine Days. On the positive side, as we get closer to the messianic era we start to focus on the inner purpose of the destruction, which is to bring us to a higher level of sensitivity and spirituality, and ultimately to the rebuilding of all that was destroyed. We therefore try to moderate the sadness through participating in permissible celebrations. The Chabad custom is to have someone complete a tractate of the Talmud each of the Nine Days, in order to infuse these days with permissible joy.
From articles in Chabad.org
Mind Over Matter
To a person who says despairingly, “Look how far I have to go!” the Torah says, “Do not give up! After all, look how far you’ve come. A little further; a little more effort, and you will reach the next stage. Don’t take on the whole journey at once. Go one step, one stage at a time. Set your goals on the next stop.”
Eventually, all of us will get to the Land of Israel. Each of us will experience our own individual redemption, and the Jewish people as a whole will also achieve redemption. May it be speedily in our days!From an article by Nechoma Greisman
As impossible as it sounds, as absurd as it may seem: The mandate of darkness is to become light; the mandate of a busy, messy world is to find oneness. We have proof: for the greater the darkness becomes and the greater the confusion of life, the deeper our souls reach inward to discover their own essence-core. How could it be that darkness leads us to find a deeper light? That confusion leads us to find a deeper truth? Only because the very act of existence was set from its beginning to know its own Author. As it says, “In the beginning . . . G-d said, ‘It shall become light!’”
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
Milestones or Tombstones
This is how the closing Torah portion of Numbers opens: “These are the journeys of the children of Israel…”
Forty-two encampments of the Israelite camp are then enumerated, documenting their travels from Egypt to the banks of the Jordan.
But why are these forty-two pit stops referred to as “journeys,” rather than “encampments”? Didn’t they serve primarily as places of rest, not just points of departure? And weren’t each of these destinations milestones reached, not just locations left behind? Herein lies one of Judaism’s revolutionary teachings.
It’s not the milestones we reach, but the stones we encounter along the mile, that define us, and make us who we are. In other words: The journey itself is part of the destination. Ironically, it’s often the achievements placed under our belts that squeeze the air of progress out of us. And it’s the honorary medals that hang around our necks that choke and stifle our growth. Rather than define us, accomplishment can confine us.
A principal who was active in growing his Hebrew school’s enrollment once wrote a very proud letter to the Rebbe listing all of his successes. The Rebbe responded. Between his blessings and remarks, he also added in one word: “Success?”
The principal was stunned! A short while later found him in the Rebbe’s room for a private audience.
“What was the comment on my letter supposed to mean?” he asked the Rebbe.
The Rebbe gently asked him to define success. The Rebbe then asked him whether one can herald as a success having a few dozen children enrolled in a school—when there are so many more children who still are receiving no Jewish education.
“But I tripled the enrollment,” the individual protested, “is that not considered success?”
The Rebbe explained to him, “Success means exerting effort, and consists of the continued struggle to do what is right…”
Milestones often act as tombstones; both (can) bury away a life of vitality.
Success shouldn’t be measured by how far we get in life, but by the depth of life we get.
Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson