The portion this week begins with the laws of vows. The great Chassidic master, Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen ztl, established the following rule of biblical interpretation: the first place a particular word is used in the Torah is the word’s essence, its foundation, and provides insight into its true meaning. The Hebrew word for vow, “Neder,” is first used in Genesis 28:20 when Jacob awoke from his dream of the ladder of angels extended towards the heavens. “And Jacob made a vow saying….this stone that I placed as a monument, should be a house for G-d.” So there seems to be a connection between a vow, and G-d’s residence.
To give further insight, consider the etymology of the word “Neder.” Another Hebrew word that sounds similar is “Dirah” — a place of residence. From this we can derive that the purpose of a vow is to solidify ones commitment. The verbal commitment makes your thoughts, or your word, permanent and real. If the commitment is a means of transforming a desire to serve G-d and build a relationship with Him into something permanent and real, that creates a residence for G-d in your life.
A week from Sunday is Tisha B’Av, the day of the destruction of both the First and the Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem. The Temple was the center of G-d’s presence in the world. In Jewish tradition, there are various customs of mourning observed during the three weeks leading up to that day, and they intensify as Tisha B’Av approaches. Our continuing, annual weeks of mourning for the absence of G-d’s presence hope to arouse G-d’s desire, as it were, to return His presence to Jerusalem, and to bring about the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.
Unfortunately, we have not yet witnessed the rebuilding of the Temple, but solidifying our commitment to G-d gives us the opportunity to create a residence for G-d. Just as a building project begins with plans, blueprints, and miniature models of the planned structure, we too can build a model of the Holy Temple in our own lives by concretizing our commitment to G-d. While it is not usually advisable to make an actual vow, as the spiritual consequences for violating a vow are quite severe, we can make verbal and written commitments, personal resolutions to make changes in our lives. State clearly that you are not making a vow, but commit to make a small change for the better. When we make defined spiritual improvements, the Al-mighty has a more permanent residence in our lives. (Based on Ohr Gedalyahu, Rabbi Gedalya Schorr zt”l)
As a result of our efforts to establish His presence in our daily activities, may we merit to soon see the rebuilding of His permanent residence in the Third Temple in Jerusalem.