“Jacob came to Luz in the land of Canaan; that is Bet El, he and all the people who were with him. He built there an altar and called the place El Bet El.” With these words, the Bible informs us that Jacob is the first to have made a promise (in this case 20 years earlier; cf. Gen. 28:20-22) and to have kept it. The fulfillment of the first promise was to honor a commitment to return to a place designated for prayer. Why?
The ability to make promises is a feature of humanity which distinguishes us from the rest of the natural world. Other animals do amazing things but, as far as one can tell, making and keeping commitments is beyond their reach. Commitment depends upon at least three prerequisites. In order to make a promise, one must be able to anticipate what lies ahead. To avoid breaking a promise, one must be able to remember what has transpired. To fulfill a promise one must see oneself as having accountability. In Pirke Avot it is said, “Watch out for three things and you won’t come into sin: Know from where you came, to where you are going, and before whom you will give justification and an accounting.” These three traits are the hallmark of the covenantal personality. To reflect, to aspire, and to face the verdict are the very essence of prayer.
Rabbi Mitch Levine