This week's Torah –Bible reading deals with the laws of ne'darim= vows and she'vu'ot = oaths. People expressed the seriousness of their commitments and obligations by means of the oaths and vows. A neder=vow essentially changes the status of the object for example, BEER becomes forbidden to the person making the vow or he dedicates it to the temple. A she'vu'ah =oath impacts on the person – I take an oath not to drink beer. These commitments were binding to the extent that if a person wanted to go back on his word and annul the vow or oath , he could not do it by himself ,but needed the help of a third qualified person.
This section was taught first to the head of the tribes and then the rest of the nation close to their entry to the Promised Land. On a simple level, it comes after Moses taught laws concerning sacrifices and offerings, including voluntary ones to which a person obligates himself by using a vow or oath. On a deeper level, it comes before the Israelites enter the Promised Land and create a society based on Godly, social, moral obligations and commitment. When words are holy and sacrosanct people's 'word is a word'. A person's words then create obligations and are binding. Society can enforce the rule of law by using ' power' or rely on people obeying the law because of self –interest. Power corrupts and a society were self interest prevails, we find exploitation and injustice. When people obey the law by honoring their moral obligations we have a trusting and caring society. Trust creates social cohesion and freedom to be self directed and autonomous. This section was taught to heads of the tribes to remind the politicians and leadership the importance of keeping their words and promises, not only as individuals but as powerful people in the community.- Rabbi Jonathon Sacks
People are challenged enough to fulfill their commitments, so King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes 5:4 says' it is better not to take a vow , than to take a vow and not pay'. Rabbi Meier in the Talmud says it is better just to bring one's offerings without making a vow beforehand.
The problem with making promises, New Year's resolutions and vows is that instead of strengthening our resolve they have the opposite effect. Promises give people the feeling that they have already done something and in this way, they are pretty effective at getting people off one's back and forever delaying the making good ,the promise. These are called nidrei re'sha'im – the vows of wicked people.
King David in Psalms 119:106 says 'I have sworn – and I will fulfill to keep your righteous judgments.' Since an oath was made at Mount Sinai to fulfill the covenant between the Israelites and God, King David's oath is more about being spiritual uplifted and expressing a dedication to do God's commandments than making an oath.
The lesson we should learn from this is that making good one's promises, commitments, resolutions, and keeping one's word is not easy and we should therefore take steps to make sure our words are holy and act on them. Instead of taking oaths and making promises we should simply ask ourselves how can I get the job done. There is research showing - that instead of using hype language – I can do it! Asking oneself - can I do it ? will open up the brain to thinking and an action plan. People are more effective when they ask questions about a task than making a committing themselves to do a task.
In the home , parents often complain that kid's don't keep their promises or having participated in the CPS – collaborative problem solving process don't follow through on their part of a solution to a problem. Part of the CPS process is to review how the solution is playing out and if necessary going back to the drawing board. In real life the first solution is not always the last solution. While keeping one's part of an agreement is important and building and maintaining trust is vital for a family to function, it is more effective to try to come up with a better solution. This means checking to see if there are any unidentified concerns , getting more clarity on your kid's concerns, making sure that the solution is really mutually satisfactory and most important realistic and doable. This means helping a kid with procedures or an action plan so he can follow throw with his side of the solution.
In order to help kids become trustworthy and act on their words, we need to support their autonomy and help them be self-directed. When they feel compelled and coerced making promises are the easiest way for them to get us off their backs. They should have a sense of belonging and purpose and most important be competence to engage in a plan of action to make good their obligations and commitments.