Parashat Matot- Fulfilling Commitments
The opening section of Parashat Matot deals with the subject of Nedarim – vows. The Torah affords great importance to fulfilling one’s pledges and commitments. It is very easy to pledge a donation, or to make a commitment to improve one’s religious observance, but fulfilling those commitments is far more difficult. The Torah states in no uncertain terms that a person who made a commitment must follow through and fulfill his pledge. The Pasuk says in Parashat Matot about one who makes a pledge, "He shall not defile his words; he shall perform all that comes out of his mouth" (30:3).
A number of Rabbis noted that this command, at first glance, appears redundant. After the Torah warns that one "shall not defile his words" by failing to meet his commitments, why does it then repeat, "he shall perform all that comes out of his mouth"? What message does the Torah convey through this repetition?
One explanation is that failing to fulfill one’s commitments adversely affects his prayers. After all, the "instrument" we use for prayer is the mouth, the faculty of speech. If a person misuses and "defiles" his speech by making commitments that he does not fulfill, then this mechanism is damaged and incapable of praying properly. A person’s prayers cannot be effective if he misuses his mouth by making pledges that remain unfulfilled. Fulfilling commitments is thus vital for ensuring the success of our Tefilot. The Torah here teaches us that a person "shall not defile his words," and if he fulfills all his commitments, then God "shall perform all that comes out of his mouth." By ensuring the purity and innocence of one’s speech, he ensures that his prayers will be accepted.
This might also explain the significance of the Kol Nidreh prayer with which we begin the Yom Kippur service. Kol Nidreh is recited with great reverence and emotion as we usher in the holy day of Yom Kippur, and yet, when we look at its words, we see a technical, legal text, a formal declaration that annuls vows and pledges made during the previous year. Why was this declaration chosen for the emotional moments of the onset of Yom Kippur? The reason is that as we begin the observance of Yom Kippur, preparing to spend a full day immersed in soulful prayer to God, we must first clean the slate, so-to-speak, of any unfulfilled pledges. Our prayers cannot earn acceptance as long as we have outstanding commitments. We therefore "recalibrate" our mouths, as it were, formally annulling our pledges, so that we can pray on Yom Kippur and have our prayers answered.
I know several individuals in our community who serve as inspiring examples of keeping commitments. There is one individual who frequently runs into trouble because whenever he receives an Aliya on Shabbat and pledges a donation, he brings the check immediately on Sunday, but the synagogue office issues its statements only on Wednesday. This man thus routinely receives the bill several days after he made his payment, and then has to deal with the secretary who is asking him for a check. Then there is another congregant who goes even further. When he knows that he will be receiving an Aliya on Shabbat, he makes out checks on Friday and brings them with him to the synagogue before Shabbat. Immediately following Habdala in the synagogue on Saturday evening, he quickly presents the checks to the Gabbai, thereby ensuring that no time goes by after Shabbat without his pledges being fulfilled. I know another man who pleaded with me to have the synagogue immediately issue a statement to his son who had pledged a donation on Shabbat. The man said that he simply could not sleep knowing that his son has an outstanding obligation to the synagogue, and he therefore wanted the synagogue to send the bill and receive the payment as soon as possible.
We can only imagine how warmly God accepts the prayers of such individuals. If a person is careful to immediately fulfill his commitments, then Hashem, too, will ensure to immediately fulfill his requests. The more careful we are to follow through on our commitments, the more likely we are to have our prayers answered in full, and to see the fulfillment of all the requests we bring to the Almighty.