Ki Tetzé 5777 – English

Rabbi Gustavo Kraselnik
Congregacion Kol Shearith Israel

Near the end of Parashat Ki Teitzei, right before the mandate to remember Amalek (which we read on the shabbat before Purim) that concludes the Parashah, we find the law of honest weights and measures (Deut. 25:13-16):

“You shall not keep in your pouch two different weights, one large and one small. You shall not keep in your house two different ephah measures, one large and one small. [Rather,] you shall have a full and honest weight, [and] a full and honest ephah measure, in order that your days will be prolonged on the land which the Lord, your God, gives you. For whoever does these things, whoever perpetrates such injustice, is an abomination to the Lord, your God.”
Apparently, the practice to deceive using altered weights was common. We know this from the words that the prophet Amos places on the lips of his contemporaries (8:5):

“When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances?”
The author of the Book of Proverbs, in various places, condemns these actions, for example (11:1):
“A false balance is an abomination to Adonai, but a just weight is his delight.”
Perhaps the fact that it was such a common behavior explains the need for specifying this ban, instead of simply including it in the more general ones, such as “You shall not steal” (20:13), “And you shall not wrong, one man his fellow Jew” (Lev. 25:17), or “Distance yourself from a false matter” (Ex. 23:7).
Moreover, the same law appears in Parashat Kedoshim, with the same structure as in our verse – expressed first in a negative way and then in a positive – with the peculiarity that near the end it refers to the exodus from Egypt (Lev. 19:35-36):
“You shall not commit a perversion of justice with measures, weights, or liquid measures. You shall have true scales, true weights, a true ephah, and a true hin. I am the Lord, your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
The Talmud (Baba Metzia 61b) lists the Mitzvot that the Torah relates to the exodus from Egypt (the banning of impure animals, usury, wearing Tzitziot, and the use of inexact weights and measures). Rabbi Elie Munk (France, 20th century) claims that the motivation of the Torah is to “mark the main objectives of the exodus from Egypt: to build a nation of absolute integrity…”
In our Parashah, the mitzvah has as a reward a prolonging of your days, the same reward that is offered for the fifth commandment, to honor your parents. 
This reward is interesting considering that what the law demands is to use honest weights and measures, so that the buyer will receive the appropriate amount for what he is paying. 
As if that were not enough, the sages double the stakes. In the Talmud (Baba Batra 88b), Rabbi Levy claims that the punishment for using false weights is more severe than breaking the prohibition of incestuous relationships (one of the three prohibitions that cannot be disobeyed at the risk of one’s own life). 
The comparison seems exaggerated. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 19th century) explains it by saying:
“While, in general, the pernicious consequences of the incestuous act do not extend beyond the individual transgressors, on the contrary, the case of offenses involving weights and measures have a pernicious effect in wider circles… hence the severity of the responsibility.” 
Rashi (France, 11th century), in his Talmud commentary, holds that when it comes to incestuous relationships, remorse is viable, while in the case of false weights and measures it is impossible, for the seller has already abused a great amount of people and cannot know who he should reimburse for the deceit. 
I think that what the sages understand and want to get across so clearly is that the use of false weights and measures is such a serious transgression because due to its everyday nature and its range, it crosses all commercial activity in a society. And if that is built on fraud, then the entire social structure is corrupted. From there it becomes an “abomination to Adonai your God”. 
The Midrash (Tanchuma Buber, Ki Teitzei 8:1)
Rabbi Berechia opened on behalf of Aba bar Kahana: the prophet (Micah 6:11) says, “Will I pass for innocent he who has an altered balance and a pouch of false weights?” Can a generation with false weights and measures be successful?
There is no doubt. When deceit becomes the rule and daily interactions are enacted based on fraud, evidently, that society is doomed to fail.
Shabbat Shalom