Home Digital Content Library “Promise?” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings
Blog post

“Promise?” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

July 29, 2022 | 1 Av 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Adonai, open up our lips and our mouths shall declare your praise.

These words from the Psalms set an intention for the beginning of the middle section of the service called the Amidah. They provide a framework and challenge as we engage in prayer. As our lips form words, let what we say emerge as praise.

We have the power and the choice to offer all kinds of words. Without thoughtful consideration, that which we utter can be hurtful, destructive, and thoughtless. Our words can lift, inspire, and protect as well. It turns out sticks and stones and name-calling can not only break bones but they can also crush souls as well. What we say matters and how we say it has a profound impact as well. It builds a foundation for the well being of every society and civilization.

Perhaps this is the reason our portion, Matot, begins with laws around vows. If someone makes a vow or an oath, then an obligation is imposed not to break the pledge that has crossed that person’s lips.

Adonai, open up our lips and our mouths shall declare your praise.

The Israelites are close to entering into the land. They may have the ability to use brawn to capture the territory but their words and their promises will build or destroy trust. Without the assurance and the predictable reliance on one another, they can’t move forward. Without praise and assurances, there is no stability.

Then and now.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his commentary to this portion, lifts up the idea of trust as crucial:

If trust breaks down, social relationships break down. Society will then depend on law enforcement agencies or some other use of force. When force is widely used, society is no longer free. The only way free human beings can form collaborative and cooperative relationships without recourse to force is by the use of verbal undertakings honored by those who make them. (Covenant and Conversation, pg. 368)

The prophet, Jeremiah, whom we also read this Shabbat, understood the importance and value of abiding by a moral standard with regard to our words, our promises, and our behavior.

If you return to Me,

If you remove your abominations from My Presence

And do not waver,

And swear, “As the Eternal lives,”

In sincerity, justice, and righteousness—

Nations shall bless themselves by you

And praise themselves by you. (4:1-2)

Adonai, open up our lips and our mouths shall declare your praise.

Shabbat Shalom!

I remain grateful for your comments and reflections and look forward to corresponding regarding your responses. Connect with me here.

  • WE ARE OUTSIDE TONIGHT! Enjoy the fresh air reaching toward the heavens with music, singing and celebration. Join on Zoom, on Facebook Live, or livestream on our website. Let’s celebrate together.
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Thank Goodness it’s Shabbat gathers onsite at 10:00 a.m. No need to register.
  • Torah Study begins at 9:00 a.m. To join the conversation interactively, access Zoom. You can also watch on Temple Israel’s website or Facebook page.
  • Say goodbye to Shabbat withHavdalah at 8:00 p.m. Join online via Zoom.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher