Sivan Rahav-Meir
Sivan Rahav-MeirCourtesy

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (

This week's Torah portion begins (or began,if you are in Israel) with a most clearly stated and direct demand that a man "will not violate his word: Whatever he says, he must do."

The parashah is concerned with a man who made a vow, but our commentators explain that this demand is a call to all of us to seriously consider the words that come out of our mouths. What does "will not violate his word" mean? Rashi clarifies by commenting that "will not violate" (יחל) can also mean "will not profane, desecrate, (יחלל), will not make his words unholy."

What a fascinating definition: Just as there is chillul Shabbat or desecrating Shabbat, there is also chillul dibur or desecrating our speech. We profane our speech by not doing what we say.

We can promise things to our children and then forget our promises, or commit to all kinds of things to others, or even to ourselves, and fail to follow through.

A moment before entering the Land of Israel, Moshe Rabbeinu reminds us to build a culture where a word is a word, and not to make any of our words, which are meant to be holy, profane.

And on the other hand, how does Hashem sum up the forty years in a barren desert land? As a time of kindness and love.

A stirring passage stands out in the Haftarah we read during the Three Weeks, the one we read in Israel this past Shabbat. The prophet Jeremiah says to the nation of Israel: "I accounted to your favor the kindness of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown."

Huh? Is this how God summarizes our forty years in the desert? Just recently we read in the Torah about the sin of the spies, the sin of Korach, the sin of the golden calf, to say nothing of the nation's complaining demands to satisfy its lust for meat, or its longing to return to Egypt. It transpires that in looking back and zooming out, God focuses on our kindness and our love, our closeness and connection and enduring commitment to Him, under difficult circumstances, in a barren land.

This is how we look at the connection between the nation of Israel and God, but we may broaden this idea to include many other areas of life. Within our daily routine, challenges of being single or of being married, challenges in our children's education or in own academic pursuits, are likely to lead to frustration, especially when it comes to the failures experienced in trying to reach our goals. But after a number of years, from a bird's eye view, the bigger picture is revealed and we see that, for the most part, things turned out well, with expressions of kindness and of love the most memorable aspects of our success.

And let us close with a thought for the week, every week:

Rabbi Meir Goldwicht shared the following idea with the campers and counselors at Camp Mesorah in New York:

"We do not keep Shabbat only on Shabbat. We keep Shabbat on Sunday and Monday too. All week long, until the next Shabbat. Six days of creativity are positively influenced by the content of our Shabbat.

"But the special connection between the six days of the week and Shabbat goes both ways. Shabbat, too, is influenced by the content of our week. Again and again Shabbat is often mentioned in the Torah following six days of work: 'Six days you shall labor and do all your work. And the seventh day is a Shabbat to the Lord your God. You shall not do any work.'

"In other words, the quality of our week influences the quality of Shabbat. A week of positive activity, study, family time, volunteering, fulfilling work and effective utilization of time will enable us to appreciate and enjoy Shabbat in the best possible way."