middot silence torah the guard of silence

the guard of silence

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-broken-waterWhen you make a vow to the Lord, your God, you shall not delay in paying it, for the Lord, your God, will demand it of you, and it will be [counted as] a sin for you. But if you shall refrain from making vows, you will have no sin. (Deuteronomy 23:22, 23)

It can be an easy thing to treat our failed promises as mistakes that we try to make up, as opposed to outright “sins.” A close friend of mine once told me that saying you will do something and failing is not much different than saying you did something when you didn’t. It seems, at least in our society, that we treat the latter as a lie while the former is more forgivable (even if unfortunate).

Here is where silence comes in. If we don’t promise to do something we cannot do, we are not liable. This is the point of the above verses from Deuteronomy. We oughtn’t use this as an excuse to be excessively noncommittal, but it does caution us to not be so loose-lipped as to promise what we cannot.

Silence is a guard against words that harm others and ourselves. In this way silence is like a precious gift that God gives us to keep us from overstepping our bounds. It can be difficult to keep promises. When one really thinks about the number of things that need to fall in place in between the promises we make and the fulfillment of them it can be rather overwhelming. So let us guard our tongues from saying anything other than what we absolutely mean and absolutely intend to fulfill with caution, and with God’s help.

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