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Shabbat Parshat Ki Tetzeh 5777

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Honesty in Monetary Matters

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5768

At the very end of the parsha we find the reading for Parshat Zachor, the command to remember that which Amalek did to us in the desert when they attacked etc.

That is immediately preceded by 4 verses prohibiting us from cheating in business.

13. You shall not have in your bag different weights, a large and a small.

14. You shall not have in your house different measures, a large and a small.

15. But you shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shall you have; that your days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

16. For all who do such things, and all who do unrighteously, are an abomination to the Lord your God.

 The first two and a half verses are relatively simple- don’t cheat your customers in business by literally weighing down the scales.

This should not surprise any of us and follows in line with the rest of the parsha which contains a number of similar mitzvoth.

What we find in the last verse and half sets is apart from the others.

  • In verse 15 we find a reward listed for the performance of the mitzvah. This only happens 3 times in the entire Torah
  • That reward is long life in the land of Israel.
  • It is an abomination to God if you violate any of these commandments.

I want to add one more critical piece before I try and explain the significance of the command. When you take a step back from the details and look at the whole parsha you have to wonder why, out of all of the mitzvoth listed in the parsha, and there are many, this is the one that the Torah connects to remembering Amalek.

A look at the commentaries indicates that this is no mere coincidence.

Rashi quotes the Midrash that explains that

רש”י דברים פרק כה פסוק יז  – אם שקרת במדות ובמשקלות הוי דואג מגרוי האויב

If you lie with your scales and weights be wary of persecution and attack from your enemies.

Rabbeinu Bechaya and others express the same idea and quote the same Midrash.

And we have to wonder why?

Why is this sin the one that will bring our enemies to the land of Israel? What is so bad and why is this worse than any other.

I want to share two answers that I found with you and then conclude with one of my own.

The Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz ,1540-1604 in Poland, explains that the sin of those with deceitful weights and measures is that they are cheating people in private without realizing that God is watching. Thus Hashem comes in a very public way and punishes you thus revealing your sin.

I have two problems with this approach:

  1. I m not sure how enemies coming will show that you were cheating.
  2. This does not explain why this is any different that any of the other mitzvoth listed in the parsha.
  3. Amalek is a national problem and is not going to come because of one individual. This explanation focuses on the individual and the text focuses on the people of Israel staying in the land of Israel.

A few centuries later the Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin in a fascinating piece trying to undercover the primary reasons for sin, argues that when you cheat in business you are displaying a lack of faith in God and his providence. You don’t believe that if you behave correctly and properly that God will take care of you.

This explanation is also subject to the same criticisms as the Kli Yakar.

As is often the case the simplest explanation might also be the most basic and yet the most profound.

The Torah is telling us in very clear terms that one of the conditions to remaining in the land is that as a society we must engage in fair and honest business practices. We must respect our fellow human beings and not try and deceive them and rob them. That is one of the hallmarks of God’s people. To highlight that point maybe we take the most simple and most obvious and basic laws- don’t have bad weights and measures.

And if we can’t live up to that moral idea and treat each other with the respect that they deserve than we don’t enjoy the right to live in Israel as God’s people because we are not behaving as god’s people should.

Partially, it really is that simple. There are other things that could get us thrown out of the land and the Torah identifies those as well but this clearly one of them. Treat people fairly, respect them and deal with honestly in business. It is that important.

One of the 3 questions that our sages tell us that we will be asked when we meet the heavenly court after we pass away is Nassata venatata be’emunah- did you deal honestly and ethically in business? Now we really have no clues what will be asked when we die and they will probably already know the answers but, clearly they felt that this is one of the keys to heaven.

It is a key to the land of Israel and the world to come- It is that important!