Parashat Ki Tetze
by Rabbi Isaac Mann
Parashat Ki Tetze is replete with laws and regulations, some of which are found elsewhere in the Torah and some of which are partially or completely new. It would appear that the section towards the end of the parashah (Deut. 25:13-16) that deals with honest weights and measures is of the former type. The Torah here specifies that one may not have two types of weighing stones in one’s pouch – a large one and a small one (even gedolah u’ketanah) – nor may one have two types of ephahs (an ephah is an ancient Hebrew measure) in one’s home – a large one and a small one (ephah gedolah u’ketanah). These items were used for weighing and measuring merchandise that was bought and sold. But rather one must have only an honest stone (even shelemah va-tzedek) and an honest ephah (ephah shelemah va-tzedek).
As Rashi explains, quoting the Sifre (a 2nd – 3rd century collection of midrash on Deuteronomy), the Torah is concerned that one may use the larger weight or measure when purchasing products from an unwitting seller and sell these products using the smaller weight or measure, thus gaining a material advantage through deception.
The prohibition of cheating one’s neighbor through dishonest weights and measures seems to duplicate an earlier law that is taught in Parashat Kedoshim (Lev. 19:35-36) – “Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”
The Rabbis (see Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 89b) distinguished between the two parashiyot and interpreted the first one as referring to actual deception through the use of the dishonest weights and measures, whereas the prohibition of Ki Tetze refers to their mere possession. One should not have them in one’s bag or in one’s home even, as the Talmud states, even if they will be used for a urinal (and thus totally unfit for use in business transactions).This interpretation is codified in the Shulhan Arukh (Hoshen Mishpat 231:3).
One might question — if these false or non-standard weights and measures will not be used for deceptive purposes , why does the Torah insist that they should not even be found in your possession (lo yihyeh lekha). To be sure, one could argue that if they exist, they could eventually be used for illicit purposes. We should not have them around for they could be a source of temptation, just as one could justify the prohibition against possessing idols in one’s home even if they will not be worshipped.
Perhaps! But I would like to suggest a solution through a homiletical interpretation.
The Torah is indeed concerned about false weights and measures, but these are only symbols of all kinds of falsity and duplicity that exist in our lives, as the Torah itself concludes in the last verse of our parashah -”For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly” (25:16). Notice that when the Torah speaks of a dishonest weight (Deut. 25:13), the location is in the pouch or bag (be’khiskha), whereas the false measure (Deut. 25:14) is located in the house (be’vaitkha). What Scriptures is telling us is that honesty and uprightness must be found not only when we are on the outside – in the street or at work – when we have our pouches or bags or attachÃ© cases with us and we are dealing with strangers or clients or business associates, but also at home, when we are dealing with our family and our loved ones.
We hear too often of the individual who to the outside world seems to be a model of honesty and virtue, who deals nicely with everyone he comes into contact with in his office, in his business, in his travels. However, at home he changes into a very different persona. He lies and cheats, sometimes openly sometimes surreptitiously. In his own home, in his castle, he feels he can do whatever he wishes. The veneer of honesty and forthrightness comes off and our “nice guy” turns into a deceptive and unreliable and sometimes abusive parent and/or spouse.
Thus the Torah warns us that falsity and dishonesty must not be part of our possession. Whether we deal with strangers in the outside world, we must not carry duplicity with us (be’khiskha) – it must be banished totally – or whether we deal with our family at home (be’vaitkha), unscrupulous and deceitful behavior must be expunged. At work or at home, the Torah demands of us a consistent standard of honesty and forthrightness – even shelemah va’tzeddek.
Isaac Mann is on the rabbinic faculty of AJR. He is the rabbi of the Austrian Shul on the Upper West Side and serves as chaplain at Metropolitan Hospital and Bronx-Lebanon Hospital.