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    Maybe the dog will die – Mattot

    Parashat Mattot opens with laws concerning the making of vows.

    Whatever the occasion or the content of the vow, the Torah is adamant: Lo yachel d’varo – “A person must not break his word; he shall do according to all that comes out of his mouth” (Num. 30:3).

    The Midrash, recognising the human tendency to put things off, adds, “For he knows not when his hour of death will come”.

    We all seem to hope that we will never be called upon to carry out the obligations we assume.

    At school we look forward to being saved by the bell. In a hundred and one other contexts we dream of circumstances changing to such an extent that our promises will be swept up and swept away and never need to be fulfilled.

    The old Jewish story from somewhere in Eastern Europe is pertinent.

    The baron threatened to expel the Jews of the town. After the rabbi’s anguished plea, the baron relented to the extent of saying, “Well, teach my dog Hebrew within a year and you can all stay”.

    The congregation were aghast that the rabbi agreed to the condition. “How could you accept something impossible like this?” they demanded, but the rabbi, quite unshaken, replied, “Anything can happen in a year; maybe the baron will die, maybe the dog will die…”

    Unfortunately, the “maybe the dog will die” philosophy does not usually work. In most cases the things we undertake do have to be carried out.

    “Better not to vow than to vow and not fulfil”, says King Solomon (Kohelet 5:4).

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