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    Words are precious – Mattot

    quiet silenceParashat Mattot opens (Num. 30:3) with a person making a vow or swearing an oath.

    Both teach the lesson of being careful with one’s words. If you utter a vow or oath you must be certain you know what you are doing and not just scatter your words to the four winds. It is better to remain silent than to say something you haven’t thought out properly.

    Actually, remaining silent is good advice at all times. I knew of a senior lawyer who was a member of a community board and hardly ever opened his mouth at meetings. When he did speak it was only because he had something significant to say, and even then he was brief and to the point. Realising that his words were golden, the board sat up and took notice.

    In contrast there was a communal organisation of which I was the president for a time, and unfortunately there were a few people around the table who constantly spoke very volubly. As chairman of the meetings I waited until they stopped for breath and then firmly interposed, “Well, thank you Mrs… Now let’s move on to the next item!”

    If words in general require great care and deliberation, vows especially do. Their consequences are so severe that one must be warned.

    The Torah says (Deut. 23:23) that not vowing is no sin; Kohelet says (Eccl. 5:4) that it is better not to vow than to vow and not fulfil.

    The Erev Yom Kippur Kol Nidre is an annual admonition to hold back from making vows, even if you really mean every word at the time.

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