First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/matot-after-the-foxhole/
Netziv Numbers: Matot
After the Foxhole
“Vows are made in storms and forgotten in calm weather.” -Thomas Fuller
We understand the concept of there being no atheists in a foxhole, of the rediscovery of God in the midst of danger. However, what is curious is our attitudes once the threat or need has passed. There is an example of a man late for an important meeting, urgently seeking a parking spot. He prays to God: “God, please help me find a spot and I promise I’ll give a thousand dollars to charity.” He keeps looking and prays even more fervently. “God! Help me with a spot and I’ll give two thousand dollars to charity!” Suddenly, a spot opens up. The man parks and then calls out to God: “God, don’t worry about it. I found a spot on my own!”
The instinctive search for God in times of distress seems to be counterbalanced by the just as natural tendency to forget about God once things are on an even keel. The Netziv on 30:2 warns about this phenomena when the Torah discusses the theme of vows. He explains that it is normal to make vows when distressed and just as normal for those earnest, heartfelt vows to slip our minds just moments later.
But God remembers the vow. According to Jewish law, the promises we make are binding. It has the weight and strength of a contract. We are morally obliged to fulfill our word even if it was uttered in a time of crisis. We must beware of oath-breaking.
May we feel free to call out to God in need, be careful with what we say, and have the perception, memory and will to deliver on our promises.
To the victims of the AMIA terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires, twenty years ago, this week. And to the continued safety and protection of all those under threat in Israel.