Talmidav Shel Aharon
27-5768: Mitzvah N-30
June 23, 2008
Negative Mitzvah 30 – This is a negative commandment: do not swear falsely over the denial of a monetary matter.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “nor shall you lie one to another.” (Lev. 19:11). If someone sues his fellow human being for something of value (excluding land or deeds) worth from a peruta (the smallest coin) and up, where if the other admitted it he would be obligated to pay (excluding cases of fines) but he denied it and took an oath, or the claimant (plaintiff) pronounced an oath on him and he denied it (falsely) – the defendant is punishable, even if he did not answer “amen”. This is known as an oath over a Pikadon (an object entrusted for safekeeping) and he is obligated to pay the principal (original amount) and a fifth. Whoever violates this prohibition violates also violates the injunction, “and you shall not swear by my name falsely,” (Lev. 19:12) which applies to an oath of expression. (See next week’s lesson). If a person denies his fellow human being’s claim to landed property or deeds and he swears falsely, although hi is free of penalty over an oath of pikadon, he is nevertheless liable on account of an oath of expression, since he swore to a lie. It is in force everywhere and at all times for both men and women.
In the ancient world, words were very important and an oath to G-d was a very serious legal matter. When there was something brought to court that could came down to a dispute between two parties and there was no other proof except for the claims that each was making. The court could demand an oath from one or the other or from both parties as to their side of the story. Many times someone would rather pay the damages than take an oath that perhaps could turn out to be false. In our case here a person has been given an object of value to safeguard for someone else. For example, you give a friend your antique vase to keep in their home while your house is under repair. For some reason the vase disappears or is damaged. Your friend is only liable for the disappearance or damage if it can be shown that he did not take due care with the vase. One can be pretty careful with something that belongs to someone else and still there could be damage. Clearly your friend is not responsible for an earthquake or a violent home invasion. It is still hard to prove if the friend did take good care of the object or not. Since the friend was not paid to guard the vase, rather he was just a volunteer, the court allows him to swear an oath that he was indeed careful with the vase and the friend cannot force him to page damages.
But if it can be proven in another way that the friend did not take all normal precautions, but carried it around all day and to show it off to friends and left it by an open window all day and night where the weather and thieves could easily damage it, then the friend has sworn a false oath and he must pay for the vase, pay a fine of 1/5th the value of the vase. He is also in violation of the law of swearing a false oath which we will deal with in our next lesson.
If land or property deeds were given over for safe keeping, the law different and one does not take an oath like the unpaid watchman of a movable object, rather the issue is usually who is the owner of the land. He can swear that he is the rightful owner. If it is found later that he lied about his ownership, then the only punishment is because he took a false oath, he does not pay damages or the fine.