This week’s reading begins by talking about the importance of keeping our word. If a person makes a promise or oath to G-d, says the Torah, he may not make his words “secular” or “profane” by failing to fulfill his commitment. To make this type of promise and then fail to fulfill does not merely mean his words lose their holy commitment — it profanes the holy, disgraces the ability that he was given.
In reality, an oath to G-d is doubly holy. The opportunity to make such a promise is a holy thing — but the gift of speech itself is also a holy thing. It is that which distinguishes humans, who have a neshama, a soul, from animals, and is the expression of our souls. In many different areas, the Torah tells us to strive for honesty and truth. We have to keep our word, and be forthright rather than concealing our intent.
I’m choosing this topic because I believe that this week, we were party to what I suspect was an ethical failing. It concerns an advertisement which we were asked to send on behalf of Israel’s self-defense. It took a partisan tone, claiming that “the Obama administration is blaming Israel for not making peace with a terrorist organization,” and inviting people to sign a petition for suspending aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as it is united with Hamas — something with which most of us would agree, whether or not we agreed with the criticism of President Obama’s position.
Sending an advertisement is not, of course, an endorsement. While we aren’t going to advertise nonkosher products or something which we feel isn’t in accordance with our mission of encouraging Jewish growth, we’re not putting our certification on an ad either. If someone wants to pay us to send out a political message, we should be happy to do it, whether or not we agree.
But those who clicked on this particular ad were asked, on the website, to sign the petition in order to “Stand with Israel against President Obama and Sec. John Kerry” — which isn’t what the ad said. And one reader went further, and looked at the rest of the site. Navigating directly to the home page, one is greeted with a petition to impeach the president (!). And on the projects page, there is a document on “thirteen reasons to impeach Obama,” followed by several links including four different other petitions, none of which provide any information, merely a slogan like “it’s time to secure the border,” or “stop Iran’s nuclear development” and a place to sign.
It’s likely that they are just gathering email addresses for a partisan mailing in the future, rather than actually submitting them somewhere. And it’s also possible that they have set up five different petitions, but it doesn’t seem likely. It appears that those who sign the petition for Israel are effectively signing the petition to impeach the president.
Again, they are probably just adding names to a politically-tinged roster for future mailings. But I want to apologize to anyone who felt the ad didn’t express its intent more forthrightly, because we, in retrospect, feel the same way.