Beyond Our Control
By Rabbi Daniel Travis
"And [Rivka] finished giving [Eliezer] to drink, and she said, 'I will
draw water for your camels as well, until they will have finished
drinking.'" (Bereshith 24:19)
Rivka did not tell Eliezer that she would give the camels to drink, rather
that she would draw water for them until they would finish drinking. She
chose her words carefully, because since she was talking about the future,
she had no way of knowing whether the camels would actually drink the
water or not. Implicit in her offer to draw water, was the understanding
that she could not possibly control whether or not they would drink (1).
Similarly, when Yaakov agreed with Lavan that his salary would be goats
and sheep which had specific markings, he added that Lavan could inspect
his sheep to make sure he had not violated their agreement. In order to
substantiate his words, Yaakov added, “In the future this will be a sign
of my honesty (2).” Because he predicted that he would be praised in the
future, he was punished shortly afterwards with the abduction of his
daughter Dina (3), a terrible blow to Yaakov’s reputation (4).
We often find ourselves in situations over which we have no control. If
someone needs to borrow money, for example, he may be motivated to promise
to repay the loan within a short period of time. His intention to repay
the money quickly is certainly praiseworthy, however such a promise may
prove impossible to fulfill. A number of factors may prevent him from
keeping his word. Perhaps he will not be able to collect the money to
repay the loan in so short a time. Other urgent expenses may arise, and he
may be forced to use the money for those expenses first. Even if he has
the money, he may not be able to contact the lender on time. Since we
cannot control such factors, it is always advisable to try to extend the
time allowed for repayment of a loan (5). Rav Avraham Yellen of Venegrov
wrote that he would never commit himself to a loan unless he was sure that
he would have the money to repay it as promised (6).
So too, one should not promise that another individual will do something.
Even if that person is your friend, you cannot be sure that he will have
the time, the resources, or the desire to fulfill your commitment.
Likewise, you should not attest to the fact that someone else made a
particular statement if you did not actually hear that person say it, but
only heard it indirectly (7).
Once when it was raining outside, Rav Rafael of Bershid walked into the
house, and when someone asked him if it was still raining out he
replied, “When I was outside it was still raining.” Although he had been
outside only a moment earlier, he did not want to say with absolute
confidence that it was raining at that exact moment, since he did not have
control over the rain, and there was a chance that after he entered the
house the rain had stopped (8).
None of the cases cited here could be considered actual falsehood, since
everyone knows that when someone says that he will do something, or that
he will see to it that something is done, it is assumed to be on the
condition that he will be able keep his word. Nevertheless, our Sages have
advocated the most meticulous care where the veracity of our words is
concerned, because it is important for us to develop the habit of watching
out for the truth of every word we say, even in seemingly insignificant
matters. In this way, we will be far less likely to lie out of
1. Abarbanel on Bereshith 24:19.
2. Bereshith 30:33.
3. Bereshith 34:2. Certainly that was not the only reason Dina was
abducted. In fact, our Sages criticize Dina for wandering around by
herself. Often God enacts a punishment for more than one reason. God is
extremely demanding of the righteous; though Yaakov’s sin was very small,
because of his exalted level he received very harsh punishment.
4. Yalkut Shimoni Bereshith 130.
5. Reishith Chochmah. Kedushah 12:59.
6. Sefer Erech Apayim, p. 74.
7. Sefer Chasidim, 1060.
8. Growth Through Torah p. 59.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org