In this week’s parasha, with Yaakov’s old age he senses that death could be imminent and calls his son Yosef to task him with an important mission; he must not be buried in Egypt but rather taken to Israel and buried in the cave of the Patriachs in Chevron:
The time approached for Israel to die, so he called for his son, for Yosef, and said to him: “Please if I have found favor in your eyes ….please do not bury me in Egypt; for I will lie down with my fathers and you will transport me out of Egypt and bury me in their tomb.” He (Yosef) said: “I personally will do as you have said.” He (Yaakov) replied “Swear to me,” and he swore to him.
When reading this exchange one cannot miss the obvious question; why is Yaakov not satisfied with Yosef’s response – “I will personally do as you have said” – but rather desires that Yosef actually make an oath to swear that he will fulfill his beloved father’s request? Surely an oath is only something you invoke when you are suspicious, skeptical of the other’s words being nothing but emptiness? Surely Yaakov held no such doubts when hearing Yosef’s pledge? Why did he need the additional guarantee of an oath? There is a profound insight to be gleaned from this question, one that sheds light on the struggle we may sometimes have with living true to ourselves.
Firstly, in order to better understand this episode, we must understand the concept of an oath in general. The Torah term for an oath is a shavua – שבועה. This word is based on the root sheva -שבע – the number 7 in Hebrew . In the deeper sources we learn that there are 7 primary parts of our emotional makeup . The great Chassidic master, the Sfat Emet, therefore writes that when taking an oath a person gathers together and draws on the totality of his emotional reality, combines all 7 aspects of his heart and passionately commits to a given action . We have all made such an oath. The Gemara  famously describes how the unborn fetus in the womb is made to take an oath before it enters the world. The Gemara describes how there is no greater time than the time in the womb. The baby has an angel by its side teaching him the entire Torah; there is a light shone upon his head from which he is able to see from one end of the world to the next and in this state of clarity and insight, of mission and purpose, one is made to take an oath to “be a Tzadik”, a righteous individual, in this world and not a wicked person – “Mashbiin oto.. Tehi Tzadik VeAl Tehi Rasha…”. This oath has nothing to do with any lack of trust or suspicion towards the baby. After experiencing such clarity of truth there is no doubt as to the unborn child’s resolution to live a life in line with that truth. Rather the concept of the oath here is a method of imbuing added strength and resolve, to be able to succeed in one’s mission no matter what obstacles present themselves. We thus take this oath at birth, to brand deep into our consciousness at a time of clarity, the unbreakable commitment we have to staying true to the light. The power of the oath is the power of resolution that enables us to draw on strengths above and beyond our normal capabilities. As Rabbi Ze’ev Reichman writes :
Usually in normal daily living, we utilize only a fraction of our physical strength, mental concentration and spiritual capacity. That is – unless we enter into an oath… Oath taking calls forth and dedicates every ounce of will power and strength… committing his or her entire being to the fulfillment of these words. An oath is a guarantor of truth because it arouses the most passionate of commitments… (the word ‘sheva’ is also deeply related) to the word Shefa – an overflow of energy. Every Shavua/oath is really an awakening of a Divine emanation of spiritual energy and the source for renewed strength and commitment.
Back to our original question: the Ramban explains why Yaakov needed an oath from his son Yosef in a similar light to that which we have learned above. One should not think for a second that Yaakov lacked trust in his holy son whom he loved so much. When Yosef said “I will do as you have requested”, Yaakov knew that Yosef meant it. However, he also knew that there would be major obstacles placed in the way of Yosef’s fulfilling this wish. Pharaoh had already realized that Yaakov’s presence was an enormous source of blessing in Egypt. Perhaps Pharaoh would insist that Yaakov be buried in Egypt or not let Yosef, his Viceroy, leave the land so easily fearing he would not return or perhaps some other issue would arise making it difficult for Yosef to fulfill the request. Either way, Yaakov was not suspicious of his son Yosef, but he was well aware that with all the best of intentions, the road to fulfillment of any mission is littered with potholes and obstacles, and even the likes of Yosef will need special assistance to succeed. With an oath in place, if Pharaoh would try to interfere, Yosef would exclaim that he had taken an oath and with that determination he would simultaneously weaken the obstacle (Pharoah) and strengthen his own resolve, not willing to absolve himself of the mission just because he met up with a brick wall. He would find an alternative, for when you are wholly committed to a mission you find strength and resourcefulness that you never even knew you had.
How often do we make resolutions in our lives to change this or that bad habit, to start some new diet, to stop some negative behaviour? “That’s it! From now on I’m going to wake up early!” or “I’m not getting enough sleep, that’s it, I am going to start going to bed earlier each night” or “I am going to start a daily learning routine” or whatever the resolution might be. Almost like some politicians, we are generally experts at making resolutions but much less successful at keeping them. It is always energizing and exciting imagining ourselves having fixed something but then something happens in that transition from the world of imagination to the world of reality and things just get too hard. What causes the failure? Things get in the way, we get busy – caught in the thick of thin things , we drift from the sturdy solid shore of commitment , out into the turbulent waters of daily life and what seemed so clear as a ‘must’ fades into a wish washy ‘optional’ and finally descends to become an ‘impossible’ dream.
So what is the secret to keeping a resolution ? An oath like commitment which makes the resolution an absolute where there is simply no room for concession. The bridge of escape has to be burned. When there is an out, then as soon as things get tough we will take it. That is our nature, the path of least resistance. But when the circle is closed and there is no escape then you have to fight, flight is not an option.
This is a message that we all need to remind ourselves of in our daily struggles to maintain alignment between our values and our choices but also in our struggle as a nation to charge forth with unbreakable resolve to stay united and fight against those who are out to destroy us.
May we all be blessed to gather together every fiber of our being to be charged for our mission in this world, personal and national, and access our unimaginable capacity for spiritual strength to live true to ourselves and our values, in oath like decisiveness and stubbornness to the truth.
 The Ramban, Bamidbar 30:3 says that the secret of the concept of an Oath is the concept of Sheva.
 Kabbalistically, we learn of the 10 Sefirot which make up most of created reality and exist both in the world at large and on a microcosmic level within man. The 7 lower sefirot of Chesed, Gevura, Tiferet, Nezach , Hod, Yesod and Malchut form the fundamental building blocks of our traits and our emotional reality. For more on these concepts in English, see Inner Space, by Rav Aryeh Kaplan, and Flames of Faith, by R Ze’ev Reichman.
 Sfat Emet, Matot , 5634, quoted and explained in foot note 42 on page 18 of Flames of Faith.
 Nida 30b
 Flames of Faith, chapter 1
 A line from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
 Besides the practical critical points such as; being realistic yet ambitious, routine focused rather that accomplishment focused and choosing measurable specific resolutions that can be scheduled into a daily or weekly schedule