Carry That Weight: Ki Tetze 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever cheated another person? How did you justify doing so at the time? To what extent do you regret doing so?

The voluminous laws in this week’s Torah portion includes the command to be honest in our financial transactions:

The Pitch: “You shall not have in your pouch alternate weights, larger and smaller. You shall not have in your house alternate measures, a larger and a smaller. You must have completely honest weights and completely honest measures, if you are to endure long on the soil that your God Adonai is giving you. For everyone who does those things, everyone who deals dishonestly, is abhorrent to your God Adonai.” – Deuteronomy 25:13-16

Swing #1: “According to Rabbi Levi, Moses intimated to Israel that the specific consequences of not keeping honest measures and balances are to be inferred … [that] if you do have diverse weights and measures, know that a wicked kingdom will come and wage war against your generation. And the proof? The [next] verse: ‘All that do such things … are an abomination unto the Lord your God’ (Deuteronomy 25:16). What warning against the abomination of using false measures and balances follows in the fourth verse? ‘Remember what Amalek did to you …’ (Deuteronomy 25:17).” – Pesikta D’Rav Kahana

Swing #2: “[Honest weights and measures] must certainly have been one of the most widespread form of cheating simply because it was difficult for the purchaser to detect or for the authorities to stamp out. Even standard weights employed in antiquity suffered considerable variation through wear and tear, besides which they may also have existed regional variations, since new weights were balanced from older, won ones. One of the most desirable benefits of official royal oversight of trading practices was a concern to enforce standard weights. Nevertheless, even with these efforts, it seems probable that the honesty of the officials was little superior to the dishonesty of the traders.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2

Swing #3: “Whence comes this juxtaposition of greed and sanctuary defilement? One possibility is that an exegetical process lay behind this idea, though I know of no early ancient Jewish evidence for it. In Deuteronomy 25:13-16, the prohibitions against having unfair weights and measures leads to the general warning that [in verse 16] ‘all who do these things – who act deceitfully – are an abomination to the Lord your God.’” – Jonathan Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism

Late-Inning Questions: Why do our commentators believe that having honest weights and measures is important? Why is this commandment necessary, given that we already have the command to not steal? Why does dishonesty come in so many forms? Why is it so prevalent in modern society?

The Big Inning at the End: Baseball’s history is filled with attempts at deceit, but perhaps the most ridiculous example I can think of is when New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, after being ejected from a game, reappeared in the team dugout wearing fake glasses and a fake mustache. While some applauded his creativity, I thought it was insultingly silly. I’m glad he was caught.

Shabbat Shalom!