One sign of a good, honest person is that he keeps his promises. In this week's Torah portion, Joseph promises his elderly father, Jacob, that after he passes away Joseph will make sure Jacob is buried next to his ancestors in Hebron, and not in idolatrous Egypt (where they were currently living). Even though it was risky and difficult to approach the Egyptian king and get him to agree, Joseph did just that - in order to keep his promise and to teach us the value of keeping ours.
In our story, a kid who wants to keep her promise faces a tough choice.
'ONE MORE DAY!' Liz smiled as she read the scribbly note her younger sister Gail had taped to her door. For the past week, the kid had excitedly been 'counting down' the days left until her birthday - and the days until Liz would take her out to the cool new pizza parlor, like she'd promised.
Well, why not? thought Liz. She liked her little sister (most of the time, anyway) and they both really liked good pizza.
The next day came around and Gail was bouncing around the house like a super-ball waiting for Liz to get changed so they could go on their big 'pizza-date.'
Then the phone rang. "Liz, it's for you!" Gail yelled "But talk fast okay - 'cuz we've gotta go!"
"Hi Liz, it's Tiff. You're never going to believe it. Jan's cousin works at the auditorium and he just called and told her there's five unclaimed VIP seats for this afternoon's Circus Amaze-Us show and he promised to give them to us free if we zip over there right now. I saved one last place in the car for you!"
Liz really couldn't believe it. The Circus Amaze-Us show was the hit of the season and even if you could afford the tickets - they were next to impossible to get.
She was about to say I'll be right over, when she felt a tug on her sweater. "Hurry up, Liz. It's time to go," Gail was pleading. Suddenly Liz felt torn in two and her tongue tied in a thousand knots.
"Hey, you didn't faint or anything, did you, Liz?" came the voice on the other end of the phone."
"Um, no - Tiff, I'm here. Just give me a second, okay?" Liz mumbled and turned to face her little sister's bright, expectant face.
"Um, Gail, you really want to go out now, right?"
"You bet! Let's go!"
"Yeah ... but I got this call now and I'm not so sure if... Maybe, do you think we could like go tomorrow instead?" Liz could hardly watch as her sister's face went from sunny to cloudy to stormy dark.
"Not go today? But Liz - today's my birthday, and I've been waiting so long."
"I know, Gail, but you see, my friends..."
"But you PROMISED!!!" The young girl started to cry.
"Liz? Where did you go? Are you coming or not?" Tiff asked. Liz wanted so much to go with her friends - yet she knew how much Gail was counting on her and she also knew from experience how bad it felt when someone promises something then backs out. She lifted the phone receiver that suddenly felt as heavy as a lead weight.
"Thanks a million, Tiff. You guys go have a great time - but I've got to pass." She thought she heard something like the words 'out of your mind' coming out of the phone as she hung up.
"Okay! Let's go!" Liz said, with as big a smile as she could manage.
The sisters got to the pizza parlor and as they ate Liz tried her best not to think about the amazing time her friends were having.
"Hey, there are all your friends," Gail said, pointing to the door. Liz turned and sure enough, Tiff and the crew were marching in, looking really down.
"What are you guys doing here?" asked Liz. "Aren't you supposed to be at the show?"
"We got there and not only were there no tickets, but the guy who was supposed to give them to us had gone home! Promises, promises, promises - you can't count on anybody nowadays, can you?" sputtered Tiff.
Liz nodded sympathetically while inside she felt so glad she'd shown her kid sister that she could count on her.
Q. How did Liz feel when her friend first invited her to the show?
A. She felt like she wanted to break her promise, and go with her.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She was really glad she'd kept her promise to her sister.
Q. What life lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. The way a person keeps his promises says a lot about what kind of person he is. Liz faced a tough choice, but she kept her word and not only made her sister feel good, but she felt good about herself, too.
Q. Is there ever a time it's okay not to keep our promises?
A. Though generally we should keep our word even when it's difficult, there could be times that we promise something seriously destructive, either under pressure or by mistake. In such a case, it's okay to back out. If we can, it could be worthwhile to first talk it out with someone whose opinion we respect.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What do you think a person could do to avoid breaking promises?
A. One easy thing is not to make them in the first place. Some people who take their word seriously have a practice almost never to promise, but to say 'they will try, but they can't promise.' Of course this is no excuse to take what we say lightly and we should indeed sincerely try to do what we say we will.
Q. Is there a way a person could use promises as a tool to better achieve his goals?
A. Once we learn to take our promises seriously, if there is something we know clearly is the right thing to do but we know it will be hard to do - we can promise ourselves (or others) and use the motivating power of the promise to drive us to our goal.