For the week of July 30, 2005 / 23 Tammuz 5765
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 30:2 - 32:42
Haftarah: Jeremiah 1:1 - 2:3
Obvious and Self-evident
When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. (Bemidbar / Numbers 30:2)
Sometimes I like to say, in jest of course, that I am an expert in the obvious. In a world full of opinions and perspectives, it is nice to be certain for a change. For example I can be an expert meteorologist (weatherman) as long as I am only describing the weather, not predicting it.
More seriously the introduction of the American Declaration of Independence, includes the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident". It continues by listing what the writers deemed to be such. If something is self-evident, then it is a truth standing on its own. There is no need to establish its validity through explanation or supporting evidence. So if something is self-evident, why then would it be necessary to state it at all?
Being self-evident is not the same as being obvious. When something is obvious, it is usually something that most people are aware of. While something that is self-evident requires no proof, people may or may not be aware of it. For example the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that all men (meaning people) are created equal needs no proof, yet it is a concept that went (and still goes) against how people often relate to each other.
Truth then, while at times is obvious (readily noticed by most people), or self-evident (requiring no proof), needs to be clearly stated. There are many things we accept as true and right, but for whatever reason, regularly choose to ignore. The verse quoted earlier from this week's Torah portion is a case in point. I'll read it again:
As I read this I see something that to me seems both obvious and self-evident. God here is saying through Moses that when a person takes a vow or makes an oath to God, he must do everything he said. But why else would we make a promise to God, unless it was a promise that we intend to keep? Why would God state something so obvious and self-evident?
Then again perhaps this isn't so obvious and self-evident as I first thought. Promises, pledges - even vows and oaths - are common. But breaking them is almost just as common. The strange thing about this is that many of us continue to relate to promises as if they will be kept.
For example, even though many politicians continually break election promises, they keep making them. After a while, we might wonder what is the point of making such promises in the first place? Also, people who marry continue to makes vows to one another. They solemnly promise to commit themselves to the other person with the words "till death do we part," and yet divorce is commonplace. Why then make such a commitment? People of multiple marriages and multiple divorces make these same promises again and again. And then they break them again and again. Why do we still expect these promises to be kept?
It seems to me that deep in our hearts we know that a promise is an essential element of human life. When we hear a promise we want to believe that the other party will hold true to it. We will allow ourselves to suffer as victims of broken promises again and again, because we possess a hope that promises are real.
That a promise should not be broken is both obvious and self-evident. Yet we continue to both make them and break them. It is for that reason we need to be reminded that we should be true to our word.
The verse I read specifically refers to religious vows and oaths. Yet it contains a very important general principle. This principle was well understood by the Messiah, when he said,
He was addressing what had become a complicated approach to taking vows. The teachers of his day had developed rules and conditions that affected whether or not a vow or oath really needed to be kept. Yeshua's interpretation clarified that we need to always be true to what we say.
I don't think we need to explain this any further.
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