“A perfect and honest weight shall you have … Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt …” (Devarim 25:15-17)
The Torah warns us to be honest regarding the use of weights and measures, and not even to have an inaccurate weight in one’s possession overnight. These laws represent a strong moral and ethical integrity, which is the underpinning of a faithful Jew. Our Sages note that the first letter of the first four words of the Kaddish prayer, which is a testimonial to Hashem’s greatness and holiness, spell yosher – uprightness. This alludes to man’s power to promulgate His glory and honor by conducting his life with honesty and righteousness.
The admonition against inaccurate weights and measures is immediately followed by the obligation of remembering what Amalek did to us. What is the connection between these two?
Rashi in his commentary states that the juxtaposition of the two teaches us that dishonesty in the use of weights and measures should cause concern that the enemy will rise up against the Jewish people. Rashi cites Mishlei (11:1-2): “Deceitful scales are an abomination of Hashem … when a willful sinner comes, shame comes …”
The Me’ein Bais Hasho’eivah questions this inference, citing Rashi in Shemos (17:8), which states that the Jewish Nation was attacked by Amalek because they demonstrated a lack of faith in Hashem when they lacked water in the wilderness and complained to Moshe, “Is Hashem in our midst or not?” How can these two reasons be reconciled?
In truth, though, both lapses are rooted in the same failing. It is well known that the source of life’s necessities and blessings, physical and spiritual, is Hashem. When the Jewish People lacked water, they should have turned to Hashem instead of impugning His Providence, and prayed to Him, as we learn (Tehillim 55:23), “Cast your burden on Hashem, and He will sustain you …” By failing to do so, they demonstrated a serious deficiency in emunah (faith in Hashem).
In a like manner, one who is dishonest with his weights and measures exhibits an absence of faith in Hashem. Rather than praying to Hashem, the source of blessing, he transgresses His commands. Obviously, the man believes that he will increase his revenue by being unscrupulous and defrauding others in business. One who trusts in Hashem would never resort to such desperate measures to boost his income.
Both transgressions – cheating with weights and measures and questioning Providence – have the same root, since they both indicate a lack of emunah in Hashem.
A storeowner who does not have honest weights transgresses a Torah prohibition. Moreover, since he may have been defrauding many customers over an extended period of time, rectification for the transgression is not a simple matter.
The Choshen Mishpat in Shulchan Aruch sets forth in great detail the laws of honest weights and measures. There is also a discussion there, and in the Talmud, of instances where the suspicion of dishonesty should also be avoided. For example, it is observed that when weighing certain items there is a prevailing custom to add on a little extra to ensure that the customer is not shortchanged. It is also noted, that if a storeowner has inaccurate weights, one may question the reliability of his kashrus.
Maintaining proper weights has been of concern over the millennia, and there are many responsa that address the consequences for the storeowner who defrauds his customers.
The job of the rabbi of the city is to ensure that the tenets of halacha are upheld in all instances. During the time of the Chofetz Chaim, there was a rabbi who saw that his community was not listening to his rulings, and he resigned. He explained that he did not want to be held accountable in Heaven after 120 years for the misconduct of his community.
The great R’ Menachem Mendel of Riminov was known to come with his own set of very accurate and precise weights to verify that the storeowners’ weights were honest. Since his visits were not scheduled, the shopkeepers were extra meticulous in maintaining proper weights and measures. In his final will and testament, the Riminover requested that a small tower with a window should be erected above his grave so that he could continue to watch over the city even after he had departed from the world.
The daughter of R’ Yaakov Yosef Herman related that a special sefer Torah had been sent to her father when Eretz Yisrael was under British rule. When her father went to claim the package in the Customs Office, he was informed that since it was a sacred object (tashmish kedusha) he would not have to pay any customs tax.
When Rabbi Herman inquired whether the sefer Torah was in fact totally tax exempt by law, the official conceded that according to the strict letter of the law he would still be obligated to pay the customs tax. Rabbi Herman then insisted on paying the full tax for the sefer Torah.
Many years later, R’ Herman’s son, R’ Nachum Dovid, went to make a large withdrawal from his bank account. He arrived only a few minutes before closing time, and did not have proper identification with him, so the bank officer denied his request. R’ Nachum Dovid needed the money immediately for an urgent cause and asked to speak to the president of the bank.
When R’ Nachum Dovid gave the president his name in response to his query, the president asked, “Do you have any connection to R’ Yaakov Yosef Herman?”
“Yes,” said R’ Nachum, “he is my father.”
The president then cordially invited him into his office and revealed that he had headed the Customs Office when the older Rabbi Herman had come to pick up the sefer Torah. “Individuals like your father and members of his family can withdraw money from the bank without any identification. The name Herman speaks for itself, and you don’t need a passport here. Even though your father could easily have been exempted from paying the exorbitant tax, he wouldn’t consider circumventing one of the laws of our land. He was one of the most honest people I have ever met in my life.”
With that said, the president signed the form releasing the monies that R’ Nachum Dovid had requested.