Parshas Chayei Sarah
Shevuah: I Solemnly Swear
A person must be careful to observe every oath and vow that emerges from
his lips. Having pronounced an oath, he cannot desecrate his word (except
in extenuating circumstances when this can be annulled) but is obliged to
take all the necessary steps to fulfill his pledge.
Eliezer, the loyal servant of Avraham, was instructed by his master to find
a wife for his son and heir. To guarantee the success of the mission, at
Avraham's insistence, Eliezer undertook a Shevuah, an oath. In it, he
affirmed that he would not choose a Canaanite woman for Yitzchak. Traveling
to Avraham's family, Eliezer was success in this endeavor - choosing Rivkah
as the righteous spouse for Yitzchak and future matriarch of the Jewish
There are two general categories of promises. A Neder is a vow that impacts
and transforms "the object" in question. For example, a Neder not to eat a
food transforms the earlier permissible item into something that is now
forbidden. A Shevuah, oath relates to the "subject" himself rather than the
object. The Shevuah by Eliezer to fulfill Avraham's instruction was binding
on "himself". One thing is clear from the laws of oaths and vows, is how
the Torah is most empathic that a person does not take speech
lightly: "What your lips have uttered is what you must keep" (Deuteronomy
That an oath and vow should have the potency to determine what course of
action man adopts is puzzling. Why should the utterance of man's breath
obligate him to the extent that he effectively becomes "bound" to honor his
The answer lies with a deeper grasp of the force and intensity of speech.
The creation of the universe came about through speech: "By the word of G-
d, the Heavens were made." (Psalms 33:6). And the creation of man, himself
a microcosm of the world, was similarly via becoming "a creature of
speech". The Torah relates how G-d breathed into Adam a soul of life
transforming him into "a living being", which is interpreted as meaning
Ruach Memalelah, "a speaking spirit" (Genesis 2:7 and Targum Onkeles
Speech, the point of connection between body and soul, is what defines
humanity. An outward revelation of the inner force and essence within man,
speech it that which reveals who a person is. It captures his identity and
is expressive of his life force (See Maharal, Gevuros Hashem Ch.28).
Accurately reflecting how man projects his life force and soul outwards
through speech, the mouth's lips are, remarkably, the only parts of the
body whose inside is turned outwards!
Only man with a soul can relate to G-d and tune into sanctity. And the
faculty of speech elevates him head and shoulders above all other
creatures, such that he is accorded the epithet Medaber, "Speaker" (See
Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi's Kuzari). Speaking is essential for human
relationships and for man's relationship with G-d. Because man's speech
emanates and relates to his soul, it naturally involves the issue of
holiness. Not meaningless or vain promises devoid of any substance; on the
contrary, man's speech - like life itself - is absolutely sacrosanct.
Serving G-d must be through the realms of thought, speech and action. What
man says relates to his essence - and hence unreservedly impacts upon him,
shaping and even determining his actions. This is what swearing is all
about. By making an oath or vow, ever-mindful that his words relate to his
identity and life-force means that they must be honored and upheld whatever
The natural outflow of this, is the imperative that man use language - just
as his thoughts and actions - as a tool for spirituality; certainly, he
dare not "profane his words" (Numbers 30:3) or abuse this faculty. The
potency and impact of speech exhorts us not to use this in idle chatter or
gossip. Rather, speech -as expressive of man's life force - should be the
springboard for the Jew to strengthen his resolve in mitzvah performance,
in prayer and in Torah study.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene and Torah.org.