‘He Uttered Hashem’s Name In Vain’
Since time immemorial, humanity has sought to discover how to retract words that were spoken erroneously, in anger, in jest, or in contempt. Sefarim on lashon hara and many books on etiquette and social norms would have developed quite differently had we the ability to unsay words.
Saying ‘Baruch Shem’ After Mentioning Hashem’s Name in Vain
After saying a berachah levatalah, a person should immediately follow it with “baruch shem kevod malechuso le’olam va’ed.” This practice derives from the Yerushami (Berachos 6:1), Rishonim (Tosafos, Berachos 39a, s.v. “Bezar”) and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 25:5 and 206:6. These sources all state that one should say these words if Hashem’s name was said in vain in the context of a berachah.
What if, however, a person says Hashem’s name by itself outside the context of a berachah? The Rambam (Hilchos Shevuos 12:11) writes that if a person does so, he should immediately praise Hashem so he will not have mentioned His name in vain (see Kesef Mishneh, who mentions the Yerushalmi). The Tur and Shulchan Aruch, however, ignore this case. Does that mean they disagree with the Rambam and maintain that someone who mentions Hashem’s name in vain outside the context of a berachah is not obligated to immediately say “baruch shem”?
Rabbi Yitzchak Arieli, zt”l, examines this question (Einayim Lamishpat, Berachos 39a) based on a principle disagreement between Rishonim regarding the source of the prohibition to pronounce a berachah levatalah and why one says “baruch shem” after such a berachah. Let us explore his explanation step by step.
What Is The Source?
There is a great disagreement among Rishonim whether the prohibition to say a berachah levatalah is as severe as mentioning Hashem’s name in vain outside the context of a berachah. There is also a disagreement whether the prohibition is biblical, as the Rambam maintains, or, perhaps rabbinic since technically a person hasn’t said anything in vain by uttering a blessing; indeed, he has praised Hashem. (Regardless of whether a person eats or drinks, for example, the words “Baruch atah… shehakol nihyah bidvaro” are a form of praise to Hashem.) The rabbinic prohibition is due to the person pronouncing the berachah contrary to the instructions of Chazal. Tosafos maintains this position (see the Rambam’s Responsa 105 and the Magiah, Magen Avraham 215, s.k. 6, and in Machatzis Hashekel, Eliyah Rabah, Mishnah Berurah, s.k. 20, Tosafos, Rosh Hashanah 33a, and Sdei Chemed, kelalim, ma’areches beis, klal 115).
The Reason For Saying Baruch Shem
Rishonim offer two different reasons for saying “baruch shem” after a berachah levatalah. The Rambam states (Hilchos Berachos 4:10) that one should do so “so as not to mention Hashem’s name in vain” while the Tur (O.C. 206) writes that he must do so “because he mentioned Hashem’s name in vain.” It seems that the Rambam believes that saying “baruch shem” ensures that Hashem’s name was not mentioned in vain while the Tur believes that he has already said Hashem’s name in vain and “baruch shem” merely serves to atone for his sin, as he writes, “[B]ecause he mentioned Hashem’s name in vain, he should therefore accept the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven” (see Aruch Hashulchan, O.C. 206:16).
According to the Tur, then, it stands to reason that “baruch shem” only serves as an atonement after a berachah levatalah which, in his opinion, is only rabbinically forbidden. It does not suffice, however, to atone for saying Hashem’s name in vain outside the context of a berachah, which is biblically forbidden. The Rambam, on the other hand, maintains that saying “baruch shem” avoids the prohibition altogether, and therefore, a person should say it even after saying Hashem’s name in vain outside the context of a berachah (which, in his opinion, is biblically forbidden).
How Long Can One Wait?
Rav Arieli argues that this basic disagreement also has ramifications for the following question: How long after saying Hashem’s name in vain can one say “baruch shem”? According to the Rambam it seems that a person should say it right away so as to praise Hashem’s name which he just uttered. Only if he rushes and praises Hashem does the praise “join” Hashem’s name and render it “not said in vain.” This is the opinion of Shibolei Haleket and the Tanya – that one must say “baruch shem” within a very short period of time, “toch k’dei dibur,” after mentioning Hashem’s name. However, it is logical to assume that according to the Tur, for whom “baruch shem” is an atonement, one need not rush to say it. As long as he doesn’t wait too long (so that “baruch shem” is entirely divorced from his utterance), he is okay.