Drash on Ki Tetze
Rabbi Aviva Kipen
Progressive Judaism Victoria
Growing up in the 1950s, the annual visit by the man in the brown dust coat from the local Municipal Office of Weights and Measures was a fascinating thing. Large industrial scales in my Dad’s warehouse were checked as accurate and what were then ‘yardsticks' were checked to ensure their ends were not eroding. As Moshe’s final round of orations draws towards its climax, he reviews the corpus of law by which the people must conduct themselves and the laws which deal with them if they do otherwise. As we approach Rosh ha’Shanah, some reflecting daily on their spiritual preparation from the Yamim Nora’im using the UPJ daily emailed texts, one section of this parasha is particularly apt for the coming season of having our deeds weighed on the scales of heavenly review.
Devarim 25:13-16 (Plaut p 1335) addresses the issue of standardized weights for trade. Moshe admonishes, “You shall not have in your pouch alternate weights [a stone, one “even” rhymes with heaven, the Hebrew uses the singular], larger and smaller. You shall not have in your house alternate measures [“eifah” the Hebrew uses the singular, a volume measure often quoted for amounts of grain for sacrifices] a larger and a smaller. You must have completely honest weights and completely honest measures ……. everyone who deals dishonestly is abhorrent to the Eternal your God. ”
We know what this translation means when it alludes to “completely honest” weights and measures, but it loses some of the moral imperative of the Hebrew instruction by using modern idiom. Verse15 demands, “even sh’lemah va’tzedek yihyeh lecha, eifah sh’lemah va’tzedek yihyeh lecha a full and righteous even, a full and righteous eifah you shall be to yourself”. The Hebrew doesn’t allow for our English use of the verb “to have”. When we slide into that English translation, it is for our use of language.
Torah commands buyers and sellers - who had their own small denomination weights with them in their pouches - to both use true weights; full not skimpy, righteous not corrupt. Clearly a little shaving of the standard weights and measures was not unknown. But reading this reminder during Elul has double resonance for us. Not only must we deal honestly in business, not short-changing the quantities we trade, but we must be sh’lemah va’tzedek full and righteous ourselves.
If the road of repentance during Elul demands that we be honest with ourselves, there is no point attempting to ‘shave’ our full measure from God’s sight. We must, at least, be honest enough to assess our own shortcomings in full measure, and not shortchange our forgiveness of others if they seek it. The demand to be fair in trade, applies just as much to fairness in the way we own our faults and bench-mark them against the faults of others.
At this time of the year we are reminded that double standards may not apply and that if, for any reason, we have slipped in our wholeness and righteousness with regards to ourselves or others, this is time to recalibrate. Objective standards of righteousness are difficult to identify. Frequently those on public display distract us from the quiet righteousness of those whose lives are the real yardstick of excellence. We cannot fudge the judgments of ourselves as we array ourselves before God and however challenging, honest self-appraisal in full measure, is the prerequisite.