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Verbal Billboards

Friday, 22 July, 2011 - 1:00 pm

Have you ever made a promise that you never kept?  Probably, you figure, no one remembers anymore about my pledge, so I’m not hurting anyone if I don’t fulfill it.


The holy Baal Shem Tov once heard a disciple of his angrily tell a colleague, “ I will tear you apart like a fish.” It was in the heat of the moment and the argument was not severe or lasting. Nonetheless, the founder of the Chassidic movement asked his students to gather in a circle holding hands. He instructed them to close their eyes. Once he joined the circle by placing his hands on the students next to him – all the participants shouted in alarm. They were appalled at the sight they saw. The vision they were witness to was their colleague literally tearing up his friend.

The Baal Shem Tov explained that everything we say has far-reaching ramifications. We may only intend something to be spoken, but in a higher realm it is already acted upon. Our words carry far more impact than we are willing to admit.


When we make promises, we accomplish something very real in the spiritual cosmos. Those words live on forever, and in a certain sense hover above us. When I pledge to lose 50 pounds, it’s as if I have put up a billboard stating “I have already lost 50 pounds.”

This, then, is the critical message of this week’s Torah portion, Matos, in its opening words:  If a man vows a vow to G-d, or swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word; according to all that proceeds out of his mouth shall he do.

It isn’t only about honoring our pledge to G-d and others.

Perhaps it’s time we live up to the billboards we are placing all over heaven.

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