“וְנִשְׁבַּעְתָּ חַי־ה' בֶּאֱמֶת בְּמִשְׁפָּט וּבִצְדָקָה .../You will swear, “As God lives!” in truth, justice and righteousness …” (Yirmiyahu 4:2) Taking a vow is a powerful spiritual statement. When we take a vow we create a Torah prohibition that did not exist previously. A vow invoking the name of God is even more powerful spiritually. How can we physical beings create such a powerful spiritual effect through words? Saying God’s name thus making the vow even more powerful seems somewhat ritualistic and artificial.
Because of the spiritual power involved in taking an oath or vow, Chazal understand that only a person on a high spiritual level may take them. The Midrash derives the prerequisite traits that are needed before a person may take a vow from a pasuk in Devarim (10:20), “אֶת־ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ תִּירָא אֹתוֹ תַעֲבֹד וּבוֹ תִדְבָּק וּבִשְׁמוֹ תִּשָּׁבֵעַ/You shall fear God your Lord, serve Him and cling to Him, and swear by His name.” The Midrash says that to take a vow one must be God-fearing like Avraham Avinu, Iyov and Yosef whom the Torah refers to as God-fearing. One must serve God through Torah and mitzvos to the exclusion of all else. Finally, one must cling to God.
But how does this work? Even if we are on a high spiritual level, how does invoking God’s name create a spiritual effect? The Sfas Emes explains that when we rectify ourselves, the Godliness that is within us manifests and our actions and words become spiritually stronger and more effective. When such a person takes an oath and invokes God’s name, it is the Godliness within him that he is bringing out.
How do we rectify ourselves so that the Godliness within us manifests? Chazal learn from the pasuk in Devarim that we rectify ourselves by fearing God, serving Him and clinging to Him. How do these rectify us? The answer can be found in a deeper understanding of the pasuk in Yirmiyahu.
The traits in the pasuk in Yirmiyahu, “אֱמֶת, מִשְׁפָּט, צְדָקָה/truth, justice, righteousness”, relate directly to and illuminate the three prerequisites from the pasuk in Devarim.
... בֶּאֱמֶת .../In truth : ... אֶת־ה' אֲ-לֹהֶיךָ תִּירָא .../… fear God, your Lord … – The reality is that we and everything else exist because God’s life force is within. A person who has internalized this, understands clearly how tenuous our hold on life really is. We are completely and utterly dependent for our very existence. This is the basic truth of our lives. Realizing the truth of our lives leads naturally to awe of God. We have the ability to rectify our bodies by recognizing that God’s life force fills us.
Chazal allude to this relationship between the source of our lives and awe of heaven. On the second day of the Creation God declared, “... יְהִי רָקִיעַ .../… Let there be a firmament …” The heavens, though, were already created on the first day so what is this firmament? The Midrash says that the nature of the heavens was not stable until the second day when God declared, “Let there be a firmament.” Then the heavens stabilized from fear of God’s declaration. The Sfas Emes explains that the heavens understood how tenuous existence was, how utterly dependent they were are God’s declaration. This lead naturally to fear of God.
“... בְּמִשְׁפָּט .../… in justice … : ... ... אֹתוֹ תַעֲבֹד/… serve Him ... – In addition to recognizing the truth of our existence providing a rectification for our physical bodies, we need to take that a step further and use our intellectual capacity to discover how we can dedicate all our actions to God. We need to think before we act. Doing so provides us with a rectification for our souls, our minds and our intellect.
“... וּבִצְדָקָה .../… and in righteousness … : ... וּבוֹ תִדְבָּק .../… and cling to Him – The word for righteousness –צְדָקָה – also means charity. It connotes righteous use of our assets rather than righteous activities. How can we cling to God, Chazal ask? God is a “devouring fire” (Devarim 4:24). Chazal teach that we cling to God by giving of our assets to support those who study His Torah and by marrying our daughters to talmidei chachamim.
Supporting Torah institutions is certainly a noble use of our money, but when we do so, are we then clinging to God? The Sfas Emes explains that to the extent that we release our assets for God’s mitzvos, preventing them from “clinging” to us, we merit “clinging” to – a connection with – God even as we live a physical existence. The more we distance ourselves from our physical assets, the more we are able to experience God.
When a person rectifies his body, his soul/mind and his assets by recognizing that God’s life force is within him and acts upon that recognition, then he can merit Godliness in his words. When this person takes an oath in the name of God, he is invoking the Godliness that is within him. It follows that this person can create prohibitions and commandments for himself which have the power of God’s prohibitions and commandments.
We find this idea in the following familiar pasuk, “... בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶךָ/… with all your heart and with all your soul/mind and with all your might/assets.” These three match rectification of the body, soul/mind and assets. When he rectifies these he merits, “וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה ... עַל־לְבָבֶךָ/These words … shall be upon your heart.” This alludes to the Godly spirit that resides in him so that his words are powerful. They make an imprint. May we merit recognizing the power of our words.