Yitro – Taking G-d’s Name in Vain

Do Not Take the Name of G-d Your lord in Vain.


There was once a man who never wanted to take an oath, he was very wealthy. When he was on his death bed he called his son. This man said to his son, “My son I warn you never to take an oath for truth or for deceit because all the wealth which I have accumulated is only because I never took an oath even for the truth. G-d has given me success everyday, with every transaction, with anything I have done.” The son answered, “Dad I will fulfill all of your commands. I will never swear at all.”

When the father died…gangsters came to this orphan and demanded a lot of money which they claimed his father owed….They went to court and asked the orphan to swear he said to himself, “What can I do, if I swear I will desecrate the heavenly name and defy my father’s commandment. It is better for me to pay then to swear.” He paid them almost all of the money his father had left. He had only ten golden dinars left… The gangsters then came and told him, “pay us what you owe or swear that you have no more money.” The orphan answered, “I will never swear.” They captured and imprisoned him.

His wife was very righteous and beautiful and was embarrassed to make requests from others. She would take white clothing to launder and would bring her husband food in the jail and would feed herself and her children. One day she went with her children to the river to launder. A boat approached. The sailor in his heart desired her. He told her, “launder my clothing and I will give a dinar.”….She took the dinar to free her husband and laundered the clothing. When she went to return the clothing the sailor grabbed her and went on his way. Her children were standing at a distance wailing for their mother. They went to their father and redeemed him and told him, “Mom has been taken captive.” He raised his eyes to heaven and said to G-d, “Blessed is his name of the master of the universe that I have this. Please G-d have mercy on me and my little children who are orphans.”

They went together until that pious one arrived at a river near the sea. There was no crossing point…He took of his clothes and wanted to swim across the river. Once he got in the water it was powerful. He and his little son sat on a floating piece of wood which G-d sent him. They arrived in a certain province where they were hired as shepherds. His other children were left across the river screaming until a boat came and captured them. One day this pious man was sitting next to a river which was filled with snakes and scorpions. He remembered that he was once very wealthy and he was now left alone. He raised his voice and wailed, he said, “Master of the Universe I am left alone without my wife, children or money and I have nobody who will have mercy on me. You know that I am better off dead then alive. He wanted to throw himself in the river. When he saw all the corpses which were killed by the snakes and scorpions he panicked. He saw a shadow which called him by his name. Today and for many years to come wealth is kept for you and G-d will raise you up to greatness since you watched your mouth from an oath and did not desecrate the name of G-d and you did not rebel against your father’s commandment. Take from here all of the treasures.” He took the money which was there and hired many workers and built great palaces and cities and became a king. At the end G-d made a miracle and returned his wife and children and made them into kings and rulers. This man gave charity to the poor and praised and thanked G-d that he was completely rewarded….All of this was rooted in the fact that he watched his mouth from oaths, that even a true oath he did not want to do…so as not to take the name of G-d in vain. (vain does not only mean lies but also something which can be avoided) – From Otzar Hamidrashim – Midrash Aseret Hadibrot

This was certainly an entertaining story but you can ask is it not a commandment to swear in the name of G-d as it says “In his name you should swear – In his name you should swear? The Rambam even counts it as one of the Mitzvot. We must view this subject of taking an oath in its historical setting. Our rabbis of blessed memory have taught us that this commandment applies not only in court but also to everyday affairs and business.

There was a time when people were afraid of swearing in G-d’s name if they were lying. At a certain period people became less apprehensive and began to lie even under an oath. When people were not yet so daring they had another problem: that of idolatrous beliefs. Therefore we have a commandment to swear in the name of G-d and not to idols. It seems clear that by the time of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash people were less dedicated to G-dly thoughts and tended to lie. We find the Ramban quoting a Midrash which says that only a person who is very righteous has a right to swear. This refers to a person who fears and serves G-d and sticks to G-d through Torah study, by marrying his daughter off to Talmidie Chachamim – Wise Torah Students and by giving a job to those who study Torah. It was assumed that people involved in Torah and Mitzvot and would be less apt to swear falsely.