Friday, August 25, 2006

Integrity - Small Oaths II

Rabino Daniel Travis

And I will establish my covenant with you; never again will all flesh becut off by the waters of the flood. There will never again be a flood todestroy the earth. (Bereshith 9:11)

The previous essay mentioned that one must be extremely wary ofinadvertently taking a vow, for if one intends to do so even thewords “yes” and “no” can be considered oaths. This prohibition appliesregardless of which language one spoke in and even if one does notexplicitly mention one of God’s names.(1) However, if one does mention aDivine name, the words are considered an oath even if one does not saythat they are an oath. Therefore one should not say, “B’emeth (in truth)this is so,” for Emeth is one of the names of God.(2)

Why is an oath viewed with such awe? In essence, when someone makes oath,he is comparing the accuracy of the statement he has made to the truth ofGod’s existence. Therefore if a person violates his oath it is as if hehas denied God’s very existence. For this reason, our Sages say that atSinai, when God pronounced the prohibition of swearing falsely, the entireuniverse trembled.(3)

A man once left some money with a widow. The woman placed the coins in theflour jar, but soon forgot that she had done so. When she baked bread withthat flour, the money that she was given was accidentally mixed into thedough. A poor person came to her door, and she gave him the bread, unawarethat she had also given him the coins.

The owner of the coins came back to the widow and asked for his money.Anxious to affirm her honesty, she exclaimed, “May deadly poison affectthe children of the woman who benefited from those coins.” Shortly aftershe made her exclamation one of her children died. Concerning thisincident the Sages said, “If this is the punishment for one who makes atrue oath, (for in truth she did not receive direct benefit from thecoins), imagine what the punishment for a false oath is.”(4)

1. Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 237:1.
2. Sefer HaYirah of Rabbeinu Yonah, p. 217; Reishith Chochmah, KedushahCh. 14; Teshuvoth V’Hanhagoth 1:525.
3. Shavuoth 39a.
4. Gittin 35a.