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Living Up to Your "Yes"

By: Rav Yonny Sack

This week’s parasha, Kedoshim, is action packed with many of the mitzvot that teach us the fundamentals of interpersonal holiness such as not speaking Lashon Hara, not stealing, not bearing a grudge, not taking revenge, loving your fellow Jew, judging favourably, not giving bad advice, not pushing others to do wrong, not being a bystander when you can save someone, not hating a fellow Jew, not embarrassing people – and the list goes on.

Let’s focus on one fascinating and relevant idea that is found in this parasha and with which we are confronted on a daily basis.

Imagine the following scenario:

Andy feels she is in need of a new lap top. She goes to a particular store and finds what she is looking for. The only problem is the color. She wanted a laptop with a red lid and they were all out of red lap tops of this model. The salesman tries to convince her that pink is her color and it’s similar to red anyway but Andy won’t have it. Andy asks the salesman to order her the model in red and she leaves the store disappointed and empty handed having to wait a whole week for her new red lidded laptop. The store makes the order and calls up Andy a week later to let her know that the order has arrived. In the meantime however, Andy had gotten impatient and found the red model online and already purchased it from another store. The salesman on the phone, who is a little annoyed, tells Andy she has acted incorrectly and puts down the phone. This is not the first time such a thing has happened in the retail business, but nevertheless, the salesman feels misled and took the opportunity for rebuke.

What do you think? Is Andy in the wrong?

The Torah relates to this case in an interesting manner in this week’s parasha (Vayikra 19:36). It teaches that when buying and selling, one’s measuring instruments must be accurate. Many types of merchandise (food, materials, etc.) were and still are sold by weight and size. Throughout history, a very common deceptive practice of a misleading merchant was to have his measuring instruments (scales etc.) purposely inaccurate to allow the selling of less produce for more money. This the Torah explicitly prohibits by stating emphatically that one’s measuring instruments must be “righteous” – exact and correct. Anything less is outright theft. In doing so however, the Torah uses interesting language. It says that one’s measuring vessels must be Tzedek (righteous/accurate) and goes on to list types of measuring vessels. One of the vessels mentioned is the ‘Hin’ – teaching that your ‘Hin’ should be ‘tzedek’. This translates to mean that your small measuring vessels must be accurate. The Gemara ( Bava Metzia 49a) however teaches that there is a deeper message being conveyed here. The word Hin also means 'Yes’. The Gemara thus teaches that your Hin should be Tzedek also means that your “Yes” should be righteous. In the words of the Gemara; your ‘Yes’ should be a ‘Yes’ and your ‘no’ should be a ‘no’. 

What does the Gemara mean by this?

Simply put, we are being taught that misrepresenting ourselves through empty promises and assurances – saying “yes” when we don’t really mean it – is tantamount to the hidden stealing of the merchant. We steal a person’s mind and heart as we appear to be something that we are not. This is called “genevat daat” - stealing one's mind, and is a particularly subtle, deceptive type of theft. 

When it comes to making empty promises specifically, we are taught that such a person can be rendered officially untrustworthy.

How does this appear in our day-to-day interactions? It can be a simple favor asked by a friend and we respond with an “Of course, I’m sure I’ll be able to find the time to do that for you” when we are thinking in the back of our mind that we probably won’t have time. We might say to an old friend “Won’t you come for a meal some time?” never really expecting them to take up the invitation, or we could say “I’ll for sure be at your wedding, no matter what”. Whatever the empty words might be, many of us are most likely guilty somewhat of our “Yes” not always being a “Yes”.

Why might we do this?

While for some people it is simple outright deception, when it comes to most of us, our lighthearted empty proclamations of intent are less the result of intentional deception and more often the result of other more interestingly complex subtle character flaws.

For example, some people just find it so hard to say ‘no’. This may be because they are chesed oriented and love to please people. Saying ‘no’ to somebody’s request would mean confronting the reality that they cannot please everybody. So, instead of being realistic, they take on too much, say ‘yes’ to everyone’s requests and favors and end up hurting themselves and the people who rely on them.

Others will say an empty “yes” to favors and requests asked of them because they want to be seen as a kind, helpful generous person; so they effectively (not maliciously) ‘buy’ their desired “helpful kind person” pretense with their throwaway hollow “Yes”es and vacant promises and assertions. 

Others are just too lazy to work hard for genuine credit for things. They just want to get the benefits without the work. This is a particular issue in our ‘touch-screen instantaneous’ generation. As a result people will fall prey to empty promises in order to gain credit for the ‘kindness’ that they “for sure will do” but never get round to.

Still others will just be thoughtless and throw out words and phrases like “I will definitely be there” and “I will do it no problem” or “Whenever you need me I’ll be there” and not really have thought through what they were getting themselves into.

Commitment and trust are rare commodities today. In a world that so often places external glamour above genuine inner greatness, it is not a wonder that sincerity is hard to come by. Nevertheless, we must remind ourselves that it is not just the words but the deeds that follow that are the true tests of our greatness as human beings. It is easy to say ‘yes’ and commit to something but the real strength comes in living up to that ‘yes’.

May we all be blessed with the inner strength to ensure our ‘yes’ is a true ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ a true ‘no’ and be amongst those of whom it is said:  Their mouth and hearts are in line.

Have a wonderful Shabbos. 


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