Honest Weights and Measures

It’s no accident that the first thing we will be asked when we leave this world and reach heavens’ gates will be “were you honest in your business dealings?”[1] The Talmud teaches that “punishment for dishonest business dealings is greater than punishment for transgressing sexual prohibitions.”[2] After all, our Torah portion highlights the importance of this, stating “you shall not have in your bag diverse weights, a large one and a small one. You shall not have in your house diverse measures, a large one and a small one. A perfect and just weight shall you have; a perfect and just measure shall you have; that your days may be long upon the land which g-d gives you.”[3] This passage is directly followed by remembering what Amalek did when we left Egypt.

Rashi commented that the passages are purposely juxtaposed, asserting that “if you were deceitful with your measures and weights, you should dread provoking the enemy.”[4] We know that Amalek surprised us by attacking us in the rear. When we deceive others, we in turn will be deceived by our enemies. The Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel of 16th century Poland, wrote in his work Gur Aryeh, that “G-d limits the power and ability of the enemy to the proper measure of power. But if you do not restrict yourself to proper weights and measures your enemies will no longer be restricted to the proper measure of power allotted to them by the Creator, and they will be free to harass you (כאשר האדם משקר במדות ובשיעורים אשר נוהגים בבריות, אז בא האויב).[5] In other words, when wrongdoing happens to us, it was brought about by G-d as a result of some bad action on our part.

Ephraim of Lunshitz, a 16th century Polish rabbi, took this one step further in his book Kli Yakar. He asserted that not using honest weights and measures, secretly defrauding and robbing, will lead G-d to bring in the enemy who will take what you have in public. In other words, the fortune Israel made dishonestly will be exposed for the world to see, when Amalek takes off with all their booty.[6]

The interpretation that I prefer on this topic is brought out by the Netziv (Naftali Tzvi Berlin of 19th century Poland) and Malbim (Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Weiser of 19th century Ukraine). Both of them assert that dishonest weights and measures is a means of denying one’s faith in G-d. The one who cheats his fellow thinks ‘Who will notice what I am doing?’ forgetting that G-d is always watching us.[7] The issue is not merely the deceit to make a quick buck but rather the lack of belief in Torah and that G-d will do anything in retribution against our behavior.

In the world in which we live, we often feel like we’re in a bubble, that what we do is no one else’s business. This is a completely foreign view to the Torah, which asserts that there is always “an eye that sees, an ear that hears and a book in which all your deeds are recorded.”[8] We need to keep in mind that our actions do have consequences, even if we can’t directly see the harm in what we are doing. That is why the month of Elul is used for Heshbon HaNefesh, self-accounting of what we have done and where we are headed. Our task is to never strive to deceive one another or to deceive ourselves, even when there is a personal cost attached to not doing so. While some don’t feel that honesty is always the best policy, I would argue that it is when dishonesty results in direct harm to another.

Let us live life each day with integrity and purpose, focusing on living ethically rather than striving to get ahead of our peers. In so doing, when we live this world and meet our Creator we will be able to answer “Were you honest in your business dealings” with a resounding “YES.”

[1] Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a

[2] Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 88b

[3] Deuteronomy 25:13-15

[4] Rashi Deuteronomy 25:17 ד”ה זכור את אשר עשה לך

[5] Gur Aryeh on Deuteronomy 25:17 ד”ה בא זדון

[6] Kli Yakar on Deuteronomy 25:17

[7] Netziv on Deuteronomy 25:17 ד”ה זכור את אשר עשה עמלק

[8] Mishnah Avot 2:1

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