July 8, 2021


7.9.2021 Weekly Torah Portion

We create worlds with our words. Twitter – dare I say it – is an ideal example of this. 280 characters or less creates Twitter storms with hundreds of thousands of people responding in hundreds of languages, ready to defend someone they’ve never met or burn the whole thing down. Worlds are born of 280 characters or less. And most of those worlds – rash, brash, and violent – are not places I want to live.

The words I speak create the world in which I live.

How I speak in front of my daughter is how, generally, she will speak (somehow, though, she hasn’t picked up cursing?), and so I will hear my own words reflected back to me. We play a game before bedtime that she calls “secrets.” She whispers (okay, sometimes she shouts) messages in my ear and I respond with surprise. After she whispers her secrets, I whisper mine – always, I say: “I love you.” More and more often she responds: “I love you, Mommy.” Now I live in a world in which I sometimes get to hear my daughter say I love you. Amazing.

The beginning of this week’s double-parashah, Mattot-Masei, invites us to create our world with our words:

If someone makes a vow to Adonai or takes an oath imposing an obligation on themselves, they shall not break their pledge; they must carry out all that has crossed their lips (BaMidbar 30:3).

If I make a vow to God or a promise to someone else, I must keep it. We could give many reasons why: it’s the right thing to do; words matter; we want to be people of integrity, and integrity is when our words and actions match. All of those reasons are correct and true.

It is also true that vows and promises, when not kept, have consequences. And in our recovery community, the consequences of breaking a vow or an oath are dire, indeed. If we don’t keep our vows to God and our oaths to ourselves and others, we’ll die. Our vows to set down the bottle, the needle, the video games, the using of people and ourselves, are what keep us alive. As long as we keep those vows, we create a world for ourselves in which we can live. When we break them, we destroy our world and ourselves. This is true.

But it’s hard to reconcile a lifetime without drugs or alcohol or video games or gambling or over-eating. Truly: what kind of vow does one even make to be in recovery for sex addiction? One day at a time works. Until it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, if I relapse, well, what then? Do I slip into destruction without end?

We are not perfect. We humans break our vows and promises. And breaking a vow is not the end. Our Yom Kippur liturgy expects us to break vows and oaths. On Kol Nidrei, the evening of Yom Kippur, we stand together as a community and say: “Let them all [vows, oaths, promises] be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established.” We can recreate our words and thereby recreate ourselves. We are expected to recreate ourselves. And we don’t have to wait until Yom Kippur. I can recreate myself today. Call intake. Go to a meeting. Text my sponsor.

Use your words to create the world in which you want to live.

Yes, for many people, it gets harder with every relapse, but the desperation grows with the difficulty, and recovery is possible. Indeed, the struggle is what makes recovery possible. It is through your struggle, and my struggle, and our struggle, that we learn to live better. If it were easy, we wouldn’t learn.

According to the Sefat Emet, it’s through the struggle of creation and destruction that the torah, the wisdom, within us is “reawakened.” When we struggle, we can learn. When we learn, we can create and recreate.

In my own struggle, I’ve learned how to love, and now I whisper: “I love you” and mean it fully – heart, body, mind, soul. My daughter learns from me and now she creates, too. And here we are – in a world of loving one another fully. And maybe my struggle will be one less struggle for her.

What is the world you’re (re)creating today?

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Kerry