Torah reading 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
The greatest of the Torah commentators, Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, who lived
in France approximately 900 years ago), explained the words “shall not break his
word” in the following manner: “Shall not break his word – like not make his
word profane, not make his words common.”
We are used to expecting people
to stand by their words. You said it – keep to it! But what is the reason that
the words a person utters obligate him? There are those who might phrase this
question more bluntly: “I said it; so what?” With the short sentence above, the
Torah teaches us a completely different attitude from what it accepted. The
Torah makes speech holy. A person who does not stand by his word is profaning
This is not obvious. Holiness? Profanity? What is the
connection between speech and holiness/commonness? We know there are holy days,
like the holy Shabbat whose sacredness can be preserved or, heaven forbid,
But why would a word I said contain holiness, and if I do not
uphold my word I am committing an act of “profanity” which desecrates my word?
Yes! Speech is holy, and we understand its essence and holiness when we look at
the significance of speech and what it provides to us human
People are uniquely above animals in that they have the quality
which allows for creation of mutual relationships and maintenance of those
relationships over time. Actually, this trait is the highest expression of our
moral character. Loyalty, relationships, responsibility, equality – all these
are values which can exist only when there is a connection between two people, a
mutual connection characterized by one acknowledging the value of the
And this connection is created and maintained by speech! Our
ability to express our relationship with another in words is what allows us to
create obligating connections, valid connections which contain loyalty, and real
acknowledgement of another person outside oneself.
A person who speaks
words which do not obligate him is a man who is not capable of forming social
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This kind of person takes speech and “profanes” it. He makes
the speech devoid of significance. He diminishes the trait that allows him to
relate to another and turns it into a tool that serves him alone.
person who “profanes” his speech is a person who looks upon another as an entity
that does not exist by its own right. He does not give his word to another
because he does not value the other. This kind of person is immoral since the
fundamental basis of morality is the recognition of the value of another, and
when a person speaks to someone and does not keep his word, he is passing on
words that have no validity, and as such is declaring that the other person does
not merit human treatment.
This is why the Torah attributes holiness to
speech and defines not standing by one’s words as profanity; because to say
things and not keep to them is a desecration of the moral values upon which
humanity is based.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy
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