Don’t Just Intend to…Do it!
Below is a meditation on last week’s parsha, Matot-Massei (Numbers 30:2-36:13)
How many times have we meant to call our legislator, wanted to sign that petition but let it fall to the bottom of our e-mail inbox, planned to sign up for a shift at the soup kitchen or intended to bring extra food to the synagogue food collection box? We have the best of intentions, but what about our actions? We say we want to volunteer more, give more charity be more civically active, but we don’t do it. We put it off, we get busy with other things.
When it comes to world repair, actions matter. Nothing will change if we don’t act. But our lethargy and our routine are more powerful. We all have made resolutions and not fulfilled them. We put things off because we don’t have time. So it is not a resolution we need to make in order to change, but something more.
In the first Torah portion of the double reading this week, Matot, the Torah talks about a serious type of commitment we can make: a vow or an oath. It says: “If you make a vow to the Eternal or take an oath imposing an obligation on yourself, you shall not break your pledge; you must carry out all that has crossed your lips” (Numbers 30:3). Jewish tradition gives us the way to make serious change. We don’t just plan to do something; we can vow to do it.
I know change is hard. We are habitual beings with full lives and responsibilities. But we have a greater responsibility beyond our little world. We have the responsibility to make changes in the world around us, to better it. We have the power and capacity to do so if we just begin to act.
Start small. Pick something that you can integrate into your life, and do that. Tell a friend or family member that you are taking an oath to begin doing whatever it is and you need them to hold you to it. Your kids or parents would like nothing better than to remind you if you are not following through.
Make doing justice part of your routine. Pick up a few extra things at the grocery store to bring to the synagogue food collection bin. Sign up for action alerts from the RAC, and call your Members of Congress when an important piece of legislation is being voted on. Sign up for a regular volunteer opportunity. Register for regular charitable contributions by monthly credit card payment.
Start small and work up from there. Vow to do it. Commit to yourself, your family, your community. Make a commitment to repair your world in some small way. You will find that social action will become habitual for you, and you will serve as an inspiration to others around you to act.
Start today. Make an oath—and once it crosses your lips, you shall not break your pledge, but must carry it out.
Rabbi Janice Elster works at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County running the 2030 Project: Connecting Jewish Young Adults to Judaism, Jewish Community and Each Other. She is a 2012-2013 Brickner Fellow.