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29/30 January: Parasha Yitro

scrollShabbat comes in 4.29pm; goes out 5.36pm

In this week’s parasha — Yitro — we read the ten commandments.   The third commandment prohibits swearing in vain.  What does it mean to swear in vain?   The sages define this as:

  1.  swearing to the truth of something that is obviously true and well known (e.g. that the sun is hot);
  2. swearing in denial of an obvious truth (e.g. that the moon is made of cheese);
  3. swearing to violate the Torah (e.g. that one will eat pork, an oath which is immediately void because we are considered to have taken a prior oath at Sinai to not eat pork; hence, the oath is in vain and a disrespectful and potentially harmful use of God’s name);
  4. swearing to do something that is impossible (e.g. to stay awake for a full week).

The common denominator of these types of vain oaths is that they all “cheapen” the use of G-d’s name and threaten the smooth functioning of society which relies on people keeping their word.

 Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman

January 28, 2016