Keeping Your Word
A person's word is more valuable than gold and we should always try to keep our promises. Unlike the cruel Pharaoh who, in this week's Torah portion, kept promising to free the Jewish slaves and then reneging, the Torah way is to be trustworthy and keep our word.
In our story, a kid thinks that going back on his word is no big deal...until it becomes a big deal - to him.
"Hey Tim, where do you think you're going?" cried out a shocked Suzy as her brother, basketball tucked under his elbow, went prancing toward the front door.
"To the opera! Where do you think, genius? I'm going out to play some ball. You have a problem with it?"
"No problem at all, bro ... after you clear the dishes off the table and wash them, like you said you would. We switched days because I had to go out, remember?"
Tim let out a noise that was like a combination laugh and snort.
"Dream on. You think I want to mess up my dribbling arm with dish-pan hands? I'm outta here. Anyway, when I said it, I had my left hand behind my back when I said I'd switch, so it didn't count. Have fun."
"But, Tim, you prooommmisssed!!!!" Suzy, who was dressed way too formally to tackle a sink of dishes, called out as her laughing brother slammed the door behind him.
Tim was on his way to the park to meet his friends at the time they'd arranged, when a sign with an arrow on it caught his eye.
SPORTS CARD COLLECTOR'S FAIR. TODAY ONLY!
If Tim liked one thing better than playing ball, it was collecting sports cards. As he made a sharp turn on his bike toward the sale and away from the park where his friends were waiting, the thought briefly entered his mind that he was the one who said he'd bring the ball today and if he didn't show, the guys would be stuck. But ... it really was no big deal, he thought. A kid's allowed to change his mind, isn't he? And anyway the guys would just find another ball ... somehow.
The thought of his friends searching for a basketball in an empty playground or his dressed-up sister doing dishes was the furthest thing from Tim's mind as he walked excitedly into the auditorium packed wall-to-wall with tables offering all kinds of sports cards. He looked over a couple of tables - nothing special. Then his eyes stuck like glue to a card on display on the next table. He couldn't believe it - a kid he knew from school and had traded with before was selling a rare card for which he'd been looking for years! It was a miracle that no one had snapped it up yet.
"Hey, Ken, buddy - how's it going?" Tim said in his best butter-up voice. The kid nodded. "Um, how much you want for that card in the corner over there?" he asked, pointing to his prize.
"Dunno. Five bucks I guess."
Tim couldn't believe it. What a steal! This was his lucky day! Suddenly a lump fell from his throat into the pit of his stomach. He didn't have any money on him.
"I'll take it!" he said. "But I'll have to bring you the cash in a few minutes -that's not a problem, right?"
Ken shook his head and Tim started to panic.
"But ... but, hey listen. Let's say you just put the card aside for me until I come back. I'll really be back in five minutes."
"Yeah, sure, just like that trade we made last summer, right? We worked it all out and even shook hands on it. I turned away three other kids who wanted my cards and then at the last minute you said the deal was off and that you didn't owe me a thing..." Tim started to blush as the memory came back to him. "Cash up front or no deal."
Seeing he had no choice, Tim raced back home on his bike as fast as he could. He got to his house, dashed wordlessly past his frowning sister who was drying the last dish, grabbed his wallet and groaned. Only three dollars! He ran back downstairs.
"Suzy ... um can you lend me a couple of dollars? I really need it and I'll pay you back when I get my allowance tomorrow."
The girl wrinkled up her face. "What nerve! Why should I think you'll pay me back this loan any more than the last ones I've been waiting for, for over a month?"
"But I promise!"
"Huh! You promise? What is your promise worth? I'm sure your hand is behind your back, or your toes are scrunched up or you're making one of the other million and one 'signs' you have, not to have to keep your promise. No way! I'm going out now - finally. You can go sell your promises somewhere else!"
Tim, now alone in the house he stomped out of just a little while ago, sat down on a stool, dejected. He felt bad he'd lost out on the baseball card, he felt bad he hadn't been able to borrow the money, but he felt worst of all about how nobody believed him any more and that was truly his own fault. After a minute he got up. He was tired, but maybe the guys were still waiting for him in the park. He decided it was time to be true to his word and bring them his ball - just like he said he would.
Q. How did Tim feel at first about keeping his word?
A. He felt like he didn't really have to.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt bad how no one believed him anymore and decided to try harder to keep his word.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Tim learned that day?
A. He discovered that keeping one's word is the right thing to do, and it is important to be someone others feel they can believe to do what he says he will.
Q. Do you think Tim's use of 'secret signs' to cancel his promises were legitimate? Why or why not?
A. Being trustworthy and keeping our word is a very important value and the fact that a person makes up a 'sign' does nothing to lessen his commitment. In the future if Tim wasn't sure if he could really keep his commitment he could say something like 'I'll try, but I can't promise,' etc.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that the 'crown of a good name' is more valuable than a monarch's crown of rulership. How do you understand this idea?
A. A big part of having a good 'name' or reputation, is being someone others know they can trust to keep his word. When we are straight, honest and trustworthy, we give great pleasure to God, influence others to do the same and help in a real way to improve society and the world.
Q. Do you think it's ever legitimate for a person to change his mind and not do something after he's already committed to do so?
A. It depends. While there are times that circumstances or sober second thoughts make it legitimately hard or unwise to follow through on something we've committed to do, we should take our words and commitments very seriously and only go back on them rarely and for truly legitimate reasons.