Friday, July 22, 2011
Matos 5634 First Ma'amar
The beginning of this week's parsha relates the laws of vows. The first Midrash in the parsha teaches us that in order to take an oath one has to be very righteous. The Midrash cites a pasuk, “וְנִשְׁבַּעְתָּ חַי־ה' בֶּאֱמֶת בְּמִשְׁפָּט וּבִצְדָקָה .../You will swear, “As God lives!” in truth, justice and righteousness …” (Yirmiyahu 4:2) To invoke God's name in an oath requires a level of truth, justice and righteousness. The Midrash cites another pasuk, "את ה' א-להיך תירא ואתו תעבוד ובשמו תשבע/Fear God, your Lord; worship Him and then you may swear by His name." (Devarim 6:13)
The Sfas Emes understands that swearing by God's name is actually part of the mitzvah because by doing so we honor God. When we invoke His name in an oath we are saying that our statement is true just as God is the epitome of truth. Still, the Midrash teaches that taking oaths is for the righteous who have reached the good qualities enumerated in these pesukim and elaborated upon in the Midrash. Why is this? An oath is simply a strong verbal statement of truth. Why must one be totally righteous to take one?
To answer this question we need a deeper understand of what an oath is. When we take an oath we are creating a Torah prohibition. How can we, mere physical beings, create Torah prohibitions with all the spiritual power implied? The Chiddushei HaRim notes that the word for oath – שבועה – in Hebrew has the same root as the Hebrew word for seven –שבעה . An oath is a verbal commitment that has the agreement all seven of a person's primary character traits. That is to say, an oath is a commitment of one's entire being. Since we are not only physical beings but spiritual ones as well, such a total commitment invokes the Godliness that is within us as well.
This is clear from Chazal who say that before we are born, we are asked to swear that we will be righteous. What is the significance of an oath to a soul? Can a soul take an object to swear upon as we would? Can a soul not tell the truth? However, if we understand an oath as the Chiddushei HaRim explained, that it is a commitment of one's entire being, we will realize that an oath is indeed appropriate for a soul. The soul certainly realizes that its existence is dependent solely upon God. The soul that is about to enter the world will most certainly desire with all its power to be God's agent in the physical world, to effect its rectification and to do only God's will. This total commitment is the essence of an oath.
The kabbalists teach us that Shabbos is called an oath. Since God is more revealed on Shabbos, it is easier for us to commit to serving Him. This is why Chazal teach us that the Torah was given specifically on Shabbos and we took an oath at the giving of the Torah to keep its laws. At the giving of the Torah, when we heard, "אנכי ה' א-להיך .../I am God, your Lord …" (Shmos 20:2), it was absolutely clear to every one of the nation that his existence is from God. Therefore to commit to keep the Torah, to do God's will, had the force of an oath. We made that commit with our entire beings.
This concept of an oath sheds light on our original question. A person can invoke the Godliness within him, making a total and complete commitment, through an oath only if he is connected with that Godliness. This is why the Midrash teaches that only the righteous may take oaths.