Sedra of the Week: Mattot-Masei

Sedra of the Week: Mattot-Masei

Rabbi Yoni Birnbaum takes a look at this week's portion of the torah

Last year, Microsoft began experimenting with a new Windows 10 feature called “Commitments”.

The feature allows Microsoft’s virtual assistant, Cortana, to scan a person’s emails and help them make sure they keep their promises.

Microsoft’s Marcus Ash explained that: “Cortana will look for emails where you’ve said you’re going to do something.

“If you send an email to a friend or colleague with content like, ‘I’ll get back to you by next week’ or ‘I’ll have this finished by 5.00pm today,’ then Cortana will create a card to help you set a reminder.”

Some might consider this service overly intrusive. But it also happens to reinforce a vital message.

Keeping commitments and promises in life really does matter.

The opening section of the first of this week’s sidrot contains the laws relating to vows.

Unusually however, instead of the standard opening sentence, “God spoke to Moses saying”, this passage opens with the unique phrase, “Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes…”.

According to Rabbi Moshe Sofer (d.1839), the reason for this is as follows. Keeping promises is a responsibility that devolves upon every member of society.

It begins, however, with the example set by those in a position of leadership, the “heads of the tribes”.

In his acclaimed book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), Stephen Covey defines integrity as, “conforming reality to our words – in other words, keeping promises and fulfilling expectations.

“This requires an integrated character, a oneness, primarily with self but also with life.”

If those in a position of leadership demonstrate a consistent determination to fulfil the “vows” they have made to the people, then others will follow suit.

Conversely, if integrity itself is of little importance to them, no amount of Microsoft virtual assistants will encourage the general population to keep their own commitments in life.

Rabbi Yoni Birnbaum is rabbi of Hadley Wood Jewish community

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