by Brad Scott
One of the most well known commandments listed among the big Ten is to not bear the name of our Creator in vain in Shemot (Exodus) 20:
Shemot (Exodus) 20:7Thou shalt not take the name of YHVH ’Elohiym in vain; for YHVH will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
But what does it mean to take the name of God in vain? Well, most Hebrew lexicons take this rather abstract English word and define it from the Hebrew word shav' (שוא) as empty, vanity or nothingness, which indeed are three more abstract words. This is why we debate with each other so much on this subject. This word is also related to destruction or to waste.The Hebrew word is a shin (ש), a waw or vav (ו), and an aleph (א). I submit to you that one of its closest cognates helps us to put this word into a concrete context. The word is shavah (שוה) or shin, waw, heh. This word is used in Biblical and modern times to describe a field being leveled. It is a picture of taking a plot of ground and grading it so it is all equal and on the same level. It is the Hebrew word used to equalize or level out something. I submit to you that this commandment is teaching us not to use His name in the same way we use other names, to make it common or on the same level as other names. Let us be careful not to throw His name around like some new cliche or the latest hairdo.
Shalom Alecheim! ◊