Judaism: Promises, Promises
Rabbi Berel WeinRabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history.
The Talmud warns against making a promise to a child and not fulfilling that promise - thereby teaching the child that it is acceptable to lie.
There was recently a fairly bruising primary election here in Israel for leadership of the Labor Party, the main current opposition faction in the Israeli Knesset. As is always the case in electioneering, the two candidates made many solemn promises to their voters. “Vote for me and I promise you that I will do great things for you and for our party,” was their mantra.
Of course we all know that it is apparently impossible to be elected if one has not strewn the electoral landscape with promises. But by now any voter with a modicum of sense knows or should know not to believe in the promises of political candidates.
As the cynic so wisely noted, promises are made in order to be broken. Rabin was elected because he promised to smite the PLO “foot and thigh.” Instead, he brought them back from Tunisian exile and installed them in corrupt power until today. Peres promised us a new Middle East, a veritable Garden of Eden. But it is the old Sunni-Shiite Middle East that still confronts us and the rest of the Western world.
Sharon promised to defend Israel’s right to build anywhere in the Land of Israel and instead evacuated Gaza causing wars, deaths and untold privations to thousands of innocent hapless Israeli citizens. Obama promised Americans that under his health plan law they could keep their current health insurance policies. That has been proven to be blatantly untrue.
The elder George Bush promised not to raise taxes – “read my lips,” he famously said – but when in office he did raise taxes no matter what his lips said. The list of broken diplomatic, military, legislative and governmental promises made and broken is endless.
Our prime minister now promises us that he will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. I hope and pray that he is able somehow to keep that promise. But I am wary of any human promises. Humans are oftentimes unable to fulfill their promises, no matter how well intentioned they were when first proposed.
The Talmud warns against making a promise to a child and not fulfilling that promise - thereby teaching the child that it is acceptable to lie. So, great caution should be employed when making promises. The observant Jew always qualifies one’s stated commitment to others with the statement bli neder, (without a vow intended) which, in effect, softens the promise and weakens the commitment.
It at least allows for the entrance of unforeseen circumstances that may not allow the promise to be actualized. This is not meant as a cunning loophole to escape the fulfillment of one’s word. Rather it is an admittance of human frailty and impotence in the face of the unknown and ever changing future.