There is so much we can learn from our forefather Jacob, including how to make a vow with the Almighty!

This week’s Torah portion is Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3), and in it we see an example of making a “conditional vow” to God. Let’s take a look at the relevant verses:

“Jacob took a vow, and said, ‘If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way that I am going; and He will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I will return in peace to my father’s house, and He will be a God to me – then this stone which I have set as a pillar will become the house of God, and whatever You will give me, I will tithe to You.” [Genesis 28:20-22]

Take a look at what’s happening. Jacob is making a deal with God! It must be noted that he’s not the first or last person to do so, though his may be the most demanding.

Let me share with you a more recent example of a holy Jew making a deal with God – one that spans our Torah reading, the Holocaust and the State of Israel.

The great Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Friedman, known as “The Rebbe of Sadigora,” was in Vienna during the week of March 12, 1938. This was not a good time to be in Vienna, especially for a Jew. In that week, the Nazis invaded Vienna and ransacked Jewish homes, leading to the full military occupation and near-extermination of Viennese Jewry. The Rebbe was attacked and temporarily kidnapped. More about that soon.

Fast forward to Tel Aviv, Israel, circa 1950. The Rebbe is now the spiritual leader of a great synagogue. An onlooker noticed that every morning, the street cleaner would clean the sidewalk up until the Rebbe’s synagogue, and then only continue cleaning the sidewalk on the other side of the synagogue. He would not clean the part of the sidewalk that paralleled the property of the house of worship.

Eventually the fellow realized that this was a permanent routine, and he simply couldn’t figure it out. So he went ahead and asked the streetcleaner the reason, and was told that he was following the Rebbe’s instructions. The onlooker didn’t believe the story, so he went and asked the Rebbe himself.

Tattle-tailing on the streetcleaner, the onlooker went and reported to the Rebbe that the salaried city street cleaner never cleans the sidewalk outside the synagogue and that he even had the audacity to claim that these were the Rebbe’s instructions. The Rebbe then explained that he had been taken by the Nazis and was forced to clean the steps of the Vienna opera house with a tiny broom. It was, of course, a tremendously humiliating experience. The Rebbe said that he made a “deal” with God: If I survive the holocaust, I promise that I will sweep the streets of the Holy Land!”

And so it was. The Rebbe survived the war and immigrated to Israel. In order to keep his part of the vow, he instructed the streetcleaner never to clean the sidewalk outside of his synagogue. The Rebbe did it himself every day!

There is so much we can learn from our forefather Jacob!

For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below: