The Big Promise

May 27, 2013
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A covenant is like a really big promise, an unbreakable vow, but what happens when we don’t keep our word? We can fracture a relationship, lose a job, make someone cry, and a variety of other outcomes, but not much really happens in the grand scheme so it seems.

But what would happen if a covenant were broken and could it be? Would it be like the old time-travel paradox where you go back in time to kill your grandfather but can’t no matter how hard you try, because if you did you’d not have been born to make the attempt (unless you believe in the multi-verse theory, but that’s over-complicating things isn’t it)? Could it be that G-d is sitting behind a dusty, red flood button with an itchy finger, but each time a push attempt is made there’s an epic miss and instead hits the hurricane or ozone layer button?

Yes, these are silly scenarios, but they raise the question – to whom are we actually bound? Is it the divine, our neighbors, our loved ones? I’d like to think it runs deeper than that. I’d like to think that in these deep, binding commitments of our lives the ones we’re really committing to are ourselves.

When attending school, we don’t really promise to do our best on tests, so it’s ok if we get a low mark every once in a while without hurting feelings. But for some of us, identity and social recognition is tied to our grades, so we do our best, success is achievement, failure brings disappointment – in those cases we rarely make a promise about the work.

Yet a promise made to another, that is culturally sacred. Nobody likes a promise breaker. Being known as such brings ire, but why? Was anyone really hurt? Perhaps in most individual cases no, but the social fabric is built around people keeping their words and without that, no society, thus an individual breaking a promise threatens the whole. This form of self-preservation could be considered enough reason to keep a promise, but it goes deeper…

What about a promise to oneself? Nobody gets hurt if you break it, but you. Nobody likely cares, but you, and that is the scary part. If you don’t keep your word to yourself how can you trust yourself, and if you can’t trust yourself, how can you believe in an ability accomplish your goals? Simply, you can’t. Our word to ourselves is our most sacred bond, and a promise made to anyone is in that sense a promise made to ourselves: “this is something I will do”. So, if a promise runs that deep, what about a covenant?

Well, I can imagine the world exploding and space-time folding in on itself, but that’s just for fun. And with whom have the majority of us ever made a covenant besides our creators if that much? Here’s the math: The deepest roots of a promise is with ourselves, a covenant is a big promise, the only covenant we have is with G-d, therefore our covenant with G-d is actually a covenant with ourselves.


And what is the nature of that covenant? In a somewhat liberal approach I’d summarize it as: be your best self, the crux of which is – if you don’t follow your heart the universe might explode. Enjoy :).

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Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, writer, and social good project developer as well as a recent graduate of NYU's Environmental Conservation Education masters program. Lee has also studied at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan, Israel and at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Currently he has been leading development of the Global Action Classroom, an Earth Child Institute initiative focused on global youth environmental cooperation and helping to create the Global Sustainability Fellows, a program of The Sustainability Laboratory seeking to design a new and innovative, international sustainability masters program. Other projects include: developing mobile applications for encouraging social action, mixed media video design, leading peace and environmental education workshops, and doing his best to live a life in connection with the Earth while helping others to do the same. At heart Lee is a poet, traveler, musician, and philosopher with a deep curiosity for new experiences, unfamiliar cultures, learning languages, and often dancing to the beat of a different drummer. As student of yoga, meditation, and spiritual arts, Lee aims to connect the inner journey with the outer one, hoping, as he can, to share what is learned along the way, enjoying the journey.

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