See the Light!
If a man takes a vow to Hashem... (Num. 30:3)
Our sages tell us that one who makes a vow is a sinner.(1) However, the Midrash (2) states that it is a mitzvah to make a vow. How do we explain this apparent contradiction?
When one takes a vow, he projects himself into the future, to a point in time that has not yet arrived, and decides what he will do then. It is very difficult for a person to decide today what he will do tomorrow. Although now it is clear to him what he should be doing, who says that tomorrow will bring the same clarity? He is therefore called a sinner. However, when in danger, when one's life is on the line, he suddenly has clarity like never before. All trivial matters suddenly disappear. His mission in life is now more apparent. In such cases not only is vowing permitted, it is even considered a mitzvah. There is no greater time to make decisions than now!
A man is lost in the woods, and has been walking aimlessly for days. No matter how hard he tries he cannot find his way back home. Suddenly, a lightning bolt bursts across the sky and lights up the night. In that single flash, the entire forest is lit up and he is able to see the road. The vision was momentary, but it was enough. He is no longer lost. It may take him days to travel, but he knows the way.
Sometimes, at certain points in our lives, events occur that give us a different clarity of vision. We recognize how great our mission is, how fleeting life is, and how little time we have left on this world. At that moment, we understand things from a very clear perspective. That is the moment to make life decisions. Lock in that clarity and use it to guide your life's course. Even though things may become clouded again, at least you'll know that you're headed in the right direction. It may take time to arrive there, but at least you know the way!
1. Nedarim 22a.
2. Berishis Rabba 70:1. Since we see that Yaakov took a vow (Vayeitzei 28:20).