“We suffer terribly from Sunday words and Monday actions.”
In this sermon, delivered on February 23, 1969, Rabbi Olan identifies the Ten Commandments as principles “binding at all times and in all places.” He distinguishes them from specific rules which are specific to particular situations. For example, the principle “Thou shalt not steal” refers not only to personal property but to the full range of opportunities to develop and practice one’s skills without fear of discrimination. According to Rabbi Olan, discrimination is a type of stealing, and as such is forbidden by the Eighth Commandment.
However, the main focus of this sermon is the Third Commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Rabbi Olan explains that this is not about everyday cursing but about invoking the name of God in a solemn promise that one does not keep, and may not even intend to keep. Borrowing the words of New York Congressman Meyer London (served 1921-1923), Rabbi Olan says that we have “Sunday words” but “Monday actions”. That is, we give lip service to “comfortable piety wrapped in beautiful, idealistic words” on the Sabbath (whether Saturday or Sunday) but during the week we take the name of the Lord in vain by falling back into the practice of injustice. This is the sin of hypocrisy.
Rabbi Olan takes the strong position that the pious hypocrite is more dangerous to the good society than the frank atheist. “The great curse in modern religion is not atheism… The evil lies with those who use God’s name without a sense of conviction or urgency.” This is the true meaning of the Third Commandment.
*Written by Lionel S. Joseph and Frances M. Olan*