Your Word of Honor
Every one of us owns something very valuable, yet we might not even know it exists. It's something easy to give, yet often hard to keep. It's our word of honor - keeping the promises we make and remaining true to our word.
This week's Torah portion teaches us about the different types of promises people make and the importance of being reliable to keep them. God wants us to be the kind of people who say what we mean and mean what we say, and thereby make a good name for ourselves.
In our story, a boy discovers the value of his word.
"THE WRITING ON THE WALL"
It had seemed like innocent fun to Jason at the time. The wall behind the school looked like the perfect canvas just waiting to be painted. The boy and his friend Sean aimed their spray cans, and were really getting into it painting their masterpiece on the school wall.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere came Hank, the school guard, who put a quick end to their fun.
"Hey, no graffiti allowed!" he yelled, chasing the kids with surprising speed for a man his age.
Sean managed to slip away, but Jason found himself firmly in the older man's grip, caught literally red handed, with the red spray can still in his hand.
"Oh no, I'm in BIG trouble!" he panicked as he waited for the guard's next move. Would he bring him to the principal? Would they kick him out of school? His parents were going to be so upset! "Please, Hank, just don't tell my parents," he pleaded. "I'll do anything. I'll pay for the damage, I'll stay after school for a month...."
Jason prepared for the worst, as he meekly looked up at the red-faced guard, still huffing and puffing from the chase. After what seemed like forever, the man spoke up in a serious, but calm tone of voice. "Listen kid, I won't turn you in, and I'm not gonna make you pay no money..."
Jason felt total relief.
"But you gotta give me your word that you'll never, ever do this again!"
"That's it?" thought Jason, amazed at his good fortune.
He gratefully nodded his head, as the man loosened the grip on his arm. "I promise," he said softly.
But as he started to back away, the guard looked him deep in the eye, and said words that sent a chill down Jason's spine. "Don't think you got off easy. Remember, you gave me your word, and a man who doesn't keep his word is not a man."
Time passed, and the incident was forgotten. Until one day, during summer vacation when Jason, Sean, and another guy were biking around town. They were passing by the school building, when suddenly Sean pulled over to the side of the road. He took a couple of cans of spray paint out of his pack, and turned to Jason with a sly smile.
"Now's our chance to finish the 'masterpiece' we started last spring." Noticing Jason's uncomfortable look, Sean reassured him. "And don't worry, this time we won't get caught. Nobody's guarding the school now, and just in case, we'll each take turns as lookout. Let's go!"
The boys rode into the school parking lot, and quickly ducked behind the building. Sure enough, not a soul was around. "Okay, Picasso, you go first. Start writing!" winked Sean, handing Jason a spray can.
"Why not?" Jason thought. It would be a lot of fun, and there was plenty of other graffiti on the wall already. And there was no way they would get caught.
The boy picked up the can to spray, but suddenly he felt a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. The vision of old Hank popped into his head, and with it, the guard's solemn words, "You gave me your word, and a man who doesn't keep his word is not a man."
Jason lowered the can.
"Hey, c'mon, let's go. We haven't got all day!" prompted Sean, impatiently.
Jason again took aim. What was the big deal? After all, he promised back then, and now was now. He hesitated. No, he just couldn't do it! He had given his word, and that was worth a lot. It was worth even more than some summer fun.
"Sorry, Sean" he said, shaking his head and handing him back his can of paint. "I'm out of here. I promised I wouldn't do this, and my word is too good to scribble it away on a wall."
Jason walked across the parking lot to his bike as his friends got to 'work' on the wall. But as he started to ride off, he again heard old Hank's voice, but this time it wasn't in his head! He turned around to see Sean and his other friend helplessly locked in the big man's grip. The guard had been on duty after all, and this time he was going to report the graffiti! Jason felt bad for his friends, but even more scared for himself. Would he get in trouble too? Especially after last time!
But the guard seemed to have read Jason's mind, because with a smile, and a wave of the hand, he put the boy at ease. "Don't worry kid. I saw and heard the whole thing. I know it was a struggle for you, but I see in the end, you really are a man of your word."
Q. How would you feel if someone asked you to do something you had promised not to do?
A. Although we may feel like doing it, especially if it's something fun, still since we promised, we should keep our word and not do it.
Q. How did Jason feel when he found out that Hank had really been watching them?
A. He was very glad that he had kept his word, and not sprayed paint on the building, even though he had been tempted.
Q. Why should we keep our word?
A. More than just being a nice thing to do, how seriously we take our promises shows how seriously we take ourselves. When a person gives his word, he is basically putting his reputation on the line, and by keeping it, he shows that he respects himself, and that will cause others to respect him too.
Q. Does he still need to keep his word if he really meant it when he promised, but then later changed his mind?
A. A person's word is a very serious thing, and we should be sure when we promise something, that we're ready to follow through. When we make a commitment, we need to honor it, no matter what, even if we later change our mind.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Must we literally do everything we say we will?
A. It depends. Sometimes we just mention something casually, like 'I'm going shopping today.' This is a plan, not a promise. Although there are some spiritually attuned people who are careful not even to say these types of things lightly, nevertheless, not fulfilling it isn't really a breach of trust. But if we go out of our way to commit ourselves, or promise to do something, it is very important to keep to it, if at all possible.
Q. Let us imagine for a moment that Jason had given in, painted graffiti on the wall and got caught with the others. Would this have been any worse than when he was caught the first time? Why or why not?
A. It would have been much worse. The first time, he was doing something that wasn't right, a matter of improper actions. Everybody slips sometimes. But breaking his word, whether he had been caught or not, would be something deeper. It would be showing a lack of trustworthiness, which is a basic character trait that affects all of a person's actions.