Published jointly by Valley Torah High School & Torah High Schools of San Diego
16 Kislev, 5762 Vol. 8, No. 6
"When you were in distress, you made a vow..."
A slightly sharper recollection of one's emotional state can spell the difference
Our memories are filled with emotional "snapshots"
"AND HASHEM SAID TO YAAKOV, 'GET UP AND ASCEND TO BEIS EL. AND MAKE THERE AN ALTAR'." (BEREISHIS 35:1)
FOLLOWING THE TRAGIC INCIDENT of Dinah and Shechem, Hashem commands Yaakov to fulfill the vow he had made on his departure to the house of Lavan (ibid 28:20), in which he promised to consecrate an altar to Hashem. Rashi explains, quoting the Midrash, that Yaakov delayed in fulfilling his promise and was therefore punished with the shameful events in Shechem.
If we look in the Midrash Bereishis Rabbah 81:2), we find Hashem rebuking Yaakov with unusually strong words: When you were in distress, you made a vow, and now that your troubles have eased, it has slipped your mind? You have forgotten your vow! Get up and return to Beis El..." Could we say that Yaakov Avinu forgot the solemn vow he made to Hashem? Obviously, he did not forget the fact that he had made a vow, but rather there was a slight lessening of Yaakov's emotional recollection-he did not retain the same emotional state of fervent prayer to Hashem that existed within him at the time of the neder. Therefore, he did not feel the full measure of urgency that would have enabled him to avoid any delays.
Incredibly, Yaakov Avinu, the paragon of truth, with all his righteousness and zeal, and clearly remembering that he made the vow to Hashem, found the obstacles in his path to be insurmountable and therefore determined that the implementation of his neder would have to wait; yet, had he recalled the emotional experience of the moment of his vow a slight degree more vividly, he would have found a way to overcome these difficulties and fulfilled the neder immediately. A slightly sharper recollection of one's emotional state at the moment a commitment was made can spell the difference between success and failure.
A further insight can be gleaned from this Midrash: Hashem's complaint that Yaakov "forgot" his vow implies that one can feel the exact same level of emotional pitch as before, as if the original moment would have been frozen and preserved in its entirely. Hashem asks Yaakov, "When you were in distress, you made a vow, and now that your troubles have eased..."--demanding of Yaakov that nothing should change, the urgency should be the same even though many years have passed and conditions have greatly improved.
This is the magnificence, and the delicacy, of the human spirit. We can recall events and commitments, from years before and from completely different situations, in all their emotional vividness, without any loss of intensity. At the same time, a tiny degree of increased recollection can change our entire perspective, opening our eyes to unseen possibilities in implementing our commitments.
Our memories are filled with emotional "snapshots"-moments of inspiration and emotional fervor. It may have been on Yom Kippur in the closing minutes of neilah. Or perhaps in the throes of a serious illness. An impassioned d'rasha, a fiery encounter with a mussar sefer, even the time spent in the company of a spiritual giant, are all moments that make an indelible imprint upon our minds. If we bring to bear the full impact of these emotional images, we will find new strength and zeal to fulfill our commitments and attain spiritual greatness.
Based on the talks of Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim-Rabbinical Seminary of America
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