Dishonesty is an affront to Heaven and mankind. It is a violation of
the divine will, a transgression of the most basic standards of morality.
The Torah places tremendous emphasis on honesty, especially in
business transactions and consistently demands that we deal with
integrity and fairness and never cheat another person.
In this week’s portion specifically, the Torah enjoins us, “Do not
keep two different measures in your house, one large and one small . . .
keep a whole and just measure.” Obviously, the Torah is legislating
against merchants cheating their customers. But the question
immediately arises: Why would a dishonest merchant keep two sets of
measures, one true and one false? Why wouldn’t he simply use the
false measure at all times?
Furthermore, immediately following these commandments, the
Torah enjoins us never to forget the treachery of Amalek when they
attacked the Jewish people emerging from Egypt. What is the
correlation between these two sets of commandments?
The commentators explain that the Torah is giving us a metaphor
which applies to many aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, it is very
common in our day-to-day activities to apply a double standard, one for
ourselves and one for everyone else. From others, we are inclined to
demand a high standard of behavior, but when we find ourselves in a
similar situation we tend to rationalize and equivocate and find some
way to allow ourselves that which we would deny to others.
“Do not keep two sets of measures,” the Torah tells us, for by doing
so we not only deceive others but also ourselves. Living by a double
standard forces us to sacrifice our integrity, to lie to ourselves, to
infuse our lives with chronic dishonesty. Rather, the Torah tells us, we
must “keep a whole and just measure.” We must live our own lives and view
others with the same whole and consistent measure, for a justice that is
not universal is not justice at all.
This then is the correlation to the attack of Amalek. As the Torah
relates, Amalek’s attack was treacherous, preying on the straggles who
fell behind the main body of the people. They did not meet the Jewish
people head on with bravery and courage as did their other enemies.
But the Amalekites themselves would certainly have disdained an
enemy who stooped to such shabby tactics, and yet they did not
hesitate to use those selfsame tactics to further their own ends. This is
the epitome of evil, and it must never be forgotten.
A man was sitting in shul on Yom Kippur, wrapped in his tallis and
swaying back and forth. He was completely absorbed in his prayers,
and from time to time, a sigh or a groan escaped his lips.
Presently, a young boy came to join his father, who was sitting
beside the man praying so fervently. In order to get to his father, the
boy had to squeeze by his neighbor and unintentionally jostled his
The man flung the tallis off his head and turned on the boy in fury.
“What is the matter with you?” he snapped. “Don’t you have respect for
your elders? Can’t you see there’s a person sitting here?”
The young boy flushed crimson and ran off to his mother.
“Tell me, my friend,” said the boy’s father. “Didn’t you just say in the
Shemoneh Esrei that you are an empty vessel full of shame? How could
you do that to a child if you really consider yourself a nothing?”
“A nothing?” the man sputtered. “Me, a nothing? Maybe to Hashem
I’m a nothing, but I am certainly something to everyone else.”
In our own lives, it is almost impossible to avoid situations which
call for a double standard. For instance, how often have we
reprimanded our children for all sorts of transgressions of which we
ourselves are also guilty behind closed doors? Of course, it is easy to
rationalize and say that we want our children to have better standard
than we do. But it is not honest, and in the end, it is bound to fail.
Better and wiser would be for us to listen closely to the words we speak
to our children. If they have the ring of truth then perhaps we would
better served to apply to ourselves as well.