The secular new year brings about the infamous New Year’s Resolutions, promises for what one hopes to accomplish over the next year or change about one’s self. There is the usual New Year’s resolution: I promise to eat healthier, lose weight and go to the gym more often. As expressed on the morning news shows, the lines for the treadmills are extremely long this week, however if you wait until next week, they will quickly diminish.
This is not a new concept – making vows for the benefit of one’s self. This idea of neder, or a vow freely made, is seen throughout the Bible. From Jacob promising that if he is delivered safely from the hands of his very angry brother and that his family will be safe, he will follow the God of his father and grandfather; to the Israelites at the border of Canaan who promise that if they are able to enter the land safely, they will follow God’s commands. There are those individual vows, such as that made by Hannah when she prayed that if God blesses her with a child, she would devote that child to the service of the Temple. These autonomous invocations made by individuals requesting to be delivered safely or be given a reward of some merit, are found throughout history.
Today, we seek a modern theology in regard to the making of vows. How do we as individuals embrace this concept? And to whom are we responsible for when we make them?
In a theological sense, we are asking about what are the vows that we make for our own religious lives today? We seek to learn the formula of commitment to God, Torah, and the people of Israel. But we also seek to find the commitment we are making to ourselves in deepening our own religious lives. The beauty of nedarim, vows, is that they are meant for the individual. The individual initiates it, makes it privately, speaks the words alone, and then evaluates where they are in fulfilling or editing the vow in order to be successful.
We initiate new vows for ourselves throughout the year – the High Holy Days, Birthdays, and the secular New Year. There are always moments in which we are able to evaluate our lives and set personal goals to better ourselves and enrich our lives. So along with eating healthy and going to the gym more often, what will be the vows you are going to make for your spiritual self? Remember, these are your vows, these are vows that are a gift you give to yourself to enhance not only your body but your soul as well.
A thoughtful and inspirational d’var! I can’t wait until the retreat this weekend to explore this further at the beautiful Brandeis Bardin Camp with my Temple friends.