While driving I was listening to the radio hosts talking about how we’re being foiled (yet again) into thinking we’re getting good or decent value from the products we buy, while a number of companies have been reducing the size of the goods they sell, without advertising that fact.
Some of the examples given related to packets of chips, bars of chocolate, loaves of bread, eggs, and a new one for the latest round of investigation — coffee. It appears as though some of our local baristas are involved in an elaborate scheme to dupe us out of our morning fixer upper. Then came the phone calls from listeners, each adding their own spin on how their cup of coffee is no longer what it used to be. One man said the cup no longer felt as heavy as it did before, while another reported that it seemed he was getting more froth and less coffee.
So, you may ask, what has this got to do with this week’s parasha ? Well, we learn in Ki Teitzei, that “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 life on the soil that Adonai, your God is giving you” (Devarim 26:13–15).
From this teaching, our rabbis derive the mitzvah that we are not to possess inaccurate measures and weights, and the mitzvah continues to explain that we should do this even if we will not use them in trading. The intention of the mitzvah is to ensure that when you sell goods, the weights you use to measure the product with must be just and equal. How many times do we open a packet of potato chips, or a bottle of cold drink, and wonder if we’re really getting inside that which is written on the outside?
Merchants have to ensure that the weights used to counterbalance the scale for your goods are equal to what is written on the measure. But if we go back to what the mitzvah says, it doesn’t read; “Don’t sell something that you say weighs “x”, but it actually weighs “y” ”. It says “Don’t keep deficient scales or weights”.
In many instances, the basic nature of Judaism is to keep us far from transgressing the laws. So, there exists the concept of building a “fence around the Torah”. This concept is derived from a verse in Parasha Acharei Mot, that reads; “And you shall guard My observances”. Our sages derive from this verse the need to make fences around the Torah.
These fences are primarily decrees that are declared by the sages, in order to protect us, and the law. A clear example that we can all relate to is; if you go to a museum, and the most prized jewel in the world is on display in the museum, there aren’t just signs that say; “Please do not touch”. The museum authorities are aware of this phenomenon called human nature.
Even if you weren’t even thinking of stealing the jewel, they aren’t taking any chances. They’ve put a glass cage, with state-of-the-art alarms, around the jewel, and they’ve probably got one or two guards permanently there. With no way of getting near the jewel, you cannot steal it. Building fences around the Torah works in the same way.
If you don’t own any deficient weights and measurements, you cannot sell anything that you say is “x’, but is actually “y”. But, do we really need a fence around the Torah when it comes to acting in an honest and open manner? Do we need to be told not to keep inaccurate measures, so that we won’t be tempted to use them? Does our local barista need to be reminded that a cup of coffee should be a full cup of coffee?
Perhaps it’s a reminder to step back from the hustle and bustle, and think about how we should treat others, and not get stuck in the detail and routine. Then perhaps we can treat others the way we would like to be treated.
A good lesson here is to be fair and just in everything that we do, two principles which can be equated to weights and measures. Moreover, if your outlook revolves around being fair and just, it is more likely that others will treat you fairly and justly.