Death, Taxes and the Vow-breaker
“He who promises more than he is able to perform, is false to himself; and he who does not perform what he has promised, is a traitor to his friend.”
“False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.”
Plato (427 BC – 347 BC), Dialogues, Phaedo
“But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), Letter to Jean Baptiste Le Roy (1789)
What’s the connection between a false person, death and taxes?
Besides the common desire to avoid all three, the false person, the dying man and the tax-payer all end up paying their bill, one way or another.
The Grim Reaper and the Taxman are notoriously implacable pursuers; however God is apparently also relentless with the vow-breaker.
“When you make a vow to Hashem, your God, you shall not be late in paying it, for Hashem, your God, will demand it of you, and there will be a sin in you.”
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno explains that if a man says that he will contribute something, and is then negligent in fulfilling his word, God will make sure that the item or money he promised will be taken away from him, and will somehow make it to the proper end user. The negligent man will not be credited, even though he is now objectively poorer and the charitable intention has been fulfilled by divine intervention. Furthermore, his negligence will be considered a sin by God.
I guess God doesn’t like having to go through the extra “effort” of getting the man’s word fulfilled, or appreciates the person’s attitude (“I didn’t mean it”, “I didn’t really promise”, “It’s not like it’s in writing”).
Remember the two rules of a good politician:
- Keep all your promises.
- Don’t promise anything.
If we give our word, we should always be able to keep it.
To my parents on their anniversary today. People of their word, while being highly charitable with their time, spirit and resources.