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"You must not act as witness against anyone else in vain" (5:17).
This is the ninth commandment. However, when the Ten Commandments were delivered the first time, this was phrased slightly differently:
"You must not act as witness against anyone else with something false" (Ex. 20:16).
At Mount Sinai, the word used was sheker - meaning lying, dishonest. Forty years later, when Moses recounted the Ten Commandments just before his death, he used a different phrase - shav - in vain, in a futile manner.
The Ramban addresses this issue by using shav to extend the meaning of sheker. Not only is it forbidden to testify falsely against another person in order to do harm, but it is even forbidden to say any untruth that would have no harmful effects.
This meaning of shav may perhaps also be extended to include people who unnecessarily confuse the course of justice. For example, a high profile case where someone wants the honor of being "involved" as witness, but a little thinking in advance would indicate nothing of substance to include. The words might sound tasty, but are in fact irrelevant gossip which is impossible to substantiate. This would not just be wasting the court's time, but throwing in detail after detail which would coalesce with the material facts and evidence and could potentially throw the case off balance. The more facts and complications, the harder it is to clarify towards a verdict. In other words, if you've nothing material to add, be quiet!
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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