Ed. Note: We now return to our series on the 10 Commandments with this post from TBS Congregant and Board of Trustees member Michael Bailit. Feel free to share your interpretation of this or any of our previously covered commandments on their blog posts and join in the conversation.
“You shall not take G-d’s name in vain.” This is a commandment that I have always taken so seriously. In fact, I avoid using curse words of any form. (My sons have reminded me that while they have never heard Daddy swear, they once did hear Mommy do so when she bumped her head.)
With time and reflection, this commandment has taken on greater meaning for me. In fact, I take away two different but both important meanings. First, I observe that relative to many of the “prohibition” commendmants, this one at first seems out of place. Murder, adultery, stealing…we can all agree that these are reprehensible behaviors. Yet this commandment is just about speaking words. We live in an age where we are besieged by words: spoken words on cell phones, radio, television and from friends, family, business acquaintances and strangers, and written words in books, online, on billboards, in newspapers and magazines. Words are ubiquitous and for that reason they seem to have become cheapened – “only words.” This commandment, however, seems to say that words are important and that their common use does not diminish that importance. What we say to others and what we say to G-d does matter in our relationships and in the work that we do
Second, the commandment that we not take G-d’s name in vain suggests that we should “take” G-d’s name otherwise. I take this to mean that we should “take” G-d’s name in another way and seek to have some form of a relationship with G-d. The relationship may be harmonious or difficult, one of belief or disbelief or back and forth between the two. What is important is the attempt to engage in a relationship.
These interpretations are more than those that I internalized many years ago when I resolved to be careful not to take G-d’s name in vain and suggest the multiple layers of meaning available to us in the commandments.