Download a printer friendly version here.
Please click HERE to listen to this week’s audio recording read by Rabbi Joseph Dweck.
If the sky that we look upon Should tumble and fall And the mountains should crumble to the sea I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear Just as long as you stand, stand by me
— Ben E. King
The haftara is comprised of a proclamation of restoration and an oath from God. Tziyon is told to rejoice for her population will expand. She will be transformed from a state of being a widow to the Holy One once again espousing her. Anger will be replaced with great mercy and kindness.
God takes an oath that He will never again be angry with Israel. Just as He swore with Noah regarding flooding the earth, so too is the loyalty of this oath with Israel. It will forever endure.
The Torah does not treat our swearing of oaths and vows lightly. In our parasha the issue is presented with a clear assertion:
You must fulfil what has crossed your lips and perform what you have voluntarily vowed to God your Lord, having made the promise with your own mouth. (Deut., 23:24)
The concept of a vow developed because we are a fickle species. Our minds and perceptions change as do the circumstances of our lives. We fall in and out of love and we fall in and out of each other’s favour. At one time we might believe that a certain place, action or person will save us from troubles only to be disappointed and again find some new version to replace them. We are usually as poor at anticipating how we will feel or act in the future as we are at predicting the future itself. Because of these threatening changes we tend to fear commitment on various levels.
Yet, with our fear of it, when we encounter true commitment in others we honour it greatly and recognise it as a rare and precious virtue. When we are the receivers of such commitment it strengthens our sense of security and self-worth like few other things do. There is nothing like the feeling of knowing that someone will not fail you. We know intuitively that it comes from an inner integrity that is hard to come by.
On the most basic level vows help us to ensure commitment amidst our volatility. Speaking out an affirmation that we will accept to do something or live in a certain way in spite of changes, brings the intention from the silence and privacy of our minds into the real world. In doing so we tend to feel a greater obligation to live up to it. Maintaining consistency in a world of uncertainty is a profound challenge. But there is more to some oaths than just practicing personal control.
We will swear an oath or take a vow for another person as an expression of intent to care about or commit to them come what may. We will vow to stand by someone. It is in this capacity that God swears oaths, in fact, He is the first to take an oath in the Torah.
And God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, and with every living thing that is with you…
I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ (Gen., 8-11)
Ultimately though, the highest show of such commitment in our parasha is presented to us in the context of love. We are reminded that Bil’am ben Be’or was hired to curse us by the king of Mo’ab. Yet God did not heed him as He usually would have, because He loves us.
But God your Lord refused to heed Bil’am; instead, He turned the curse into a blessing for you, for God your Lord loves you. (ibid., 6)
The single greatest commitment anyone can have for another is one of love. It is the pledge to live a life of connection and support with someone, not because we owe them a debt of gratitude, nor because it is an act of virtue, but because we know that our connection with that person is part of the nature of our own being and identity. Any other life we might lead with them would be one of negation and illusion.
We are not islands. We are intimately and integrally connected with others, and when we mature to the point of understanding the unavoidable nature of that truth, our greatest act is a statement of its recognition; an oath that acknowledges it. Even if it is as simple an assurance as: ‘I will always be there for you’, ‘I stand by you’, ‘I will not fail you’ or ‘you can depend on me’. The words are concise, but the implications are enormous. They should not be used lightly.
You must fulfil what has crossed your lips and perform what you have voluntarily vowed….
Yet, at the same time, we should strive to bring ourselves to the level at which we can genuinely share that with those we love and with whom we have a bond. There is deep comfort in truly knowing that someone is there for us in care and support with no ulterior motives.
It is God Himself Who sets the example and displays this highest level of commitment for us in the parasha and haftara.
Can one cast off the wife of his youth? —said your God.
He assures us that all else can fall away, the mountains and hills can crumble, but He will stand by us. Indeed, amidst all of the hardship and pain He has stood by His nation Israel. The oath of love soars above all circumstance, hardship, difficulty and challenge. It is our greatest act and our highest goal in life. For love is neither sharing nor intimacy alone; it is the very fabric of existence. And in the end, it is all we have.
For the mountains may move and the hills be shaken, but My kindness shall never move from you,
Nor My covenant of peace be shaken —said God, who takes you back in love.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck
 There are those, of course, to whom even vows are of little meaning. They believe that the ability to do what they wish in any given situation is more pressing than developing and establishing their reliability and integrity. That is essentially a decision to look out for one’s own personal satisfaction over maintaining one’s honour and faithfulness. It is less important for them to be consistent than it is for them to be pleased. For these people even at the time that an oath is made, there is often intent to break it when the apparent necessity arises.
VI Ki Tetze
20b Taking a wife from captives (21:10-14)
20c Inheritance for sons of different wives (21:15-17)
20d The rebelious son (21:18-21)
20e Bury the hanged that day, do not leave overnight
20f Returning lost property (22:1-3)
20g Assisting to lift fallen animals (22:4)
20h Distinction of sex in clothing (22:5)
21a Sparing the mother bird (22:6-7)
21b Safety borders on roofs. No mixing seeds (22:8-9)
21c Do not yoke an ox and an ass (22:10)
Do not waer a mix of fabrics, shatnez (22:11)
21d Wearing fringes, tzitzit (22:12)
21e False charges against a bride (22:13-19)
21f True charges against a bride (22:20-21)
21g Adultery (22:22)
21h With a betrothed woman in the city (22:23-24)
21i With a betrothed woman in the field (22:25-27)
21j The bride-price (22:28-29)
21k Prohibition of marriage with stepmother (23:1)
21l A person with a mutilated sex organ cannot be
part of Yisrael (23:2)
21m The mamzer cannot be part of Yisrael for ten
21n Ammonites and Moabites are also excluded.
Recall Bilaam! (23:4-7)
21o Edomites and Egyptians: Third generation can
become part of the people (23:8-9)
21p Holiness of the army camp (23:10-15)
21q Fugitive slaves (23:16-17)
21r The sexual immorality business (23:18-19)
21s Laws of Interest (23:20-21)
21t Laws of vows (23:22-24)
21u Benefit from a neighbour’s vineyard (23:25)
21v Benefit from a neighbour’s corn field (23:26)
21w Laws of divorce (24:1-4)
21x First year marriage war exemption. Milstones
21y Man-stealing (24:7)
21z Tzora’at and Miriam (24:8-9)
21aa Taking and restoring a pledge (24:10-13)
21bb Treatment of workmen (24:14-15)
21cc Individual responsibillity for sin (24:16)
21dd Injustice to the stranger, orphan and widow (24:17-18)
21ee Leave forgotten sheaves for the landless (24:19)
21ff Other generosities to the landless. Recall
21gg Judging, lashing, no excess. Ox muzzling (25:1-4)
21hh Yiboom and Chalitzah (25:5-10)
21ii Flagrant immodesty (25:11-12)
21jj Honest weights and measures (25:13-16)
22 Remembering Amalek (25:17-19)
Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS