Although we can't see it or touch it, our word is one of the most important things we possess. Keeping our word means doing what we say, and not going back on promises that we make. When we keep our word we are being considerate of others, and building ourselves into better people. Unlike the wicked Pharaoh, who in this week's Torah portion keeps promising Moses he will free the Jewish slaves then goes back on his word, we should always try to take our words and our 'word' seriously.
In our story, a kid goes shopping and comes back with a new understanding of the power of a promise.
Wendy and Janet walked quickly down the wide walkways of the Main Street Mall. Normally they would have taken their sweet time and done some serious window shopping along the way. But this time they had only one thing on their minds: shoes. They couldn't wait to get to 'The Shoe Tree' shoe store that had advertised its once-a-year, super blowout sale. Wendy couldn't wait to stock up on dress shoes, casuals and boots, all at a fraction of their usual cost.
The only damper on Wendy's excitement was the uncomfortable cell phone conversation she had just finished with her friend, Sarah, on the bus ride there. Since they got word about the big sale, Sarah had asked Wendy to let her know if and when she was going so they could go together.
Wendy had said that she would, but somehow when she was getting ready to go, she just didn't feel like taking the time to call Sarah and make all the arrangements. Now Sarah had called Wendy at home, and when her mom told her that she had gone off to the shoe sale, Sarah called Wendy on her cell phone to say how hurt and upset she was.
"I think Sarah's overreacting in getting so upset that I didn't call her, don't you?"
Wendy expected Janet to readily agree, but the girl merely frowned and kept her silence. "Janet, come on, answer me, you have to admit it wasn't such a big deal. After all, people say and promise things all the time and nobody really expects you to do everything you say you will, right?"
"I'm sorry, Wendy," Janet finally said as they walked on, "but I just can't agree. You gave Sarah your word to invite her along, so I can understand why she was so hurt when she found out you went without her. We even learned in school this week how Pharaoh kept promising Moses he would let the people go, and then not doing it."
"Are you calling me a Pharaoh?" asked Wendy, feeling a bit put off and on the defensive.
"No, not at all; I'm just saying that a person's word is a big deal, that's all."
Wendy really didn't understand what was so bad about not doing everything you said you would, and was about to say so, when the sight of the Shoe Tree in the distance grabbed both girls' attention like a laser beam. "Okay we can argue later, but now it's time to shop!" cried out Wendy excitedly.
Almost breaking into a sprint, the two of them got to the door, but to their shock and disappointment it was locked! Wendy tugged at the door in frustration, and groaned when she read the sign, 'CLOSED FOR INVENTORY UNTIL 6:00 P.M.'
"I can't believe this!" she said.
"Well, we might as well head home." shrugged Janet. "We can't sit around four hours waiting for a store to open."
But Wendy wouldn't budge. "This is so unfair!" she cried. "I mean how can they say in the ad they are open all day, and then just close down like that? It's false advertising, it's, it's..."
"It's like making a promise and not keeping it?" Janet said.
"That's right!" Wendy blurted. Then she put her hand up to her mouth, as she realized what her friend was getting at. She was getting upset because the store had done to her just what she had done to Sarah. Maybe it really was a bigger deal to stick to your word than she thought.
"Janet, I have to hand it to you, I'm going to leave here without any new shoes on my feet, but certainly with my foot in my mouth. I'm going to call Sarah right now and apologize, and from now on really try to stick to my word."
Q. How did Wendy feel about keeping promises at first?
A. She felt like it wasn't such a big deal if someone didn't do what he said he would.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She felt very upset that the store wasn't open even though it promised in the ad it would be. That made her understand how much it can hurt people if someone doesn't keep her promises to them.
Q. What do you think Wendy learned from what happened to her at the mall?
A. Up until then she had never taken making promises or taking her word that seriously. She thought Sarah shouldn't have gotten so upset that she had broken her promise to invite her along. When she got to the shoe store and found it closed she was really upset. Janet pointed out to her that the reason she was hurting was that the store, in a way, didn't keep its promise to her, and closed when it said it would be open, and that was how Sarah felt when Wendy didn't follow through on her promise to her. Wendy got the message, and decided to take her promises more seriously in the future.
Q. Do we have to do everything we say we will?
A. It can happen that we say that we'll do something that really is impossible to keep, or would hurt ourselves or someone else if we did it. In those cases we shouldn't do it. But other than those rare exceptions we should make every effort to keep our word and do what we say we will. Our word isn't something we should take lightly.
Q. How have you felt in the past when someone reneged on a promise he made you?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why is it so important to keep our word?
A. It's easy to take words lightly because we can't see them. But in reality our words are both real and powerful, and how we use them has a very tangible impact on ourselves and others. By taking what we say seriously and keeping our word, we infuse the positive energy of truth and stability into ourselves, our relationships and the world. Not keeping one's word does the opposite.
Q. It there a difference between merely saying we'll do something and actually promising?
A. There are varying degrees of commitment, and a promise does make things more serious and binding. Some people even have the good habit of prefacing anything they say with a disclaimer that they aren't promising. However, the fact that we haven't promised doesn't give us license to take our words lightly, and promise or not we should always strive to say what we mean and mean what we say.