Zero Tolerance

“You shall not have in your pocket a weight and a weight — a large one and a small one. A perfect and honest weight shall you have.” “For an abomination of Hashem, your G-d, are all who do this, all who act corruptly.” (Devarim 25:13–16)

The Torah is a book of truth and honesty. Moshe Rabbeinu related to the people that Hashem abhors crookedness to such a degree that even merely possessing inaccurate weights and measures is forbidden. A Jew may not own two different weights, one large and one small, so that he can use the large one when he buys to secure more for himself and a small one so that he can deliver less when he is the seller. One standard — the accurate one — must be used.

The Chatam Sofer asks: Why does the verse say that Hashem abhors “all who act corruptly” if the verse already clarified that Hashem calls dishonesty an abomination? What does “all who act corruptly” add?

Some people feel that one must deal honestly so long as the other party to the transaction is dealing in good faith. But if the other side breaks the rules — if he is not dealing straight — then everything goes. Dovid Hamelech said in Tehillim (18:27): “With the pure you act purely, and with the perverse you act perversely.” Furthermore, one might say, “What I am doing is done by everyone in my industry — it is common business practice.” The yetzer hara will reinforce your feeling that if you don’t play the game like everyone else, you will not survive.

This approach is incorrect. Although human judgment might rule that tit for tat is acceptable in business dealings, the Torah calls this type of behavior “disgusting.” It is not enough for the result to be positive; the means to reach the result must also be up to the standards of honesty dictated by the Torah. Tricking, fooling or misleading — call it what you like — is crooked and abhorrent according to Torah standards. Although one may be able to prove that one is not liable for stealing according to the strict letter of the law — still, this person is crooked in the eyes of the Alm-ghty. The Torah adds “all who act corruptly” to include the “innocent” who follow what “everyone does” as disgusting in the eyes of G-d.

Rabbi Yehudah Zayat, shlita, of Bnei Brak moved from Mexico to the Holy Land. He bought a gas station and opened for business, doing all that he could to deal honestly with his suppliers and customers. But the industry was not as straight as Rabbi Zayat. The suppliers offered petrol that was watered down at a cheaper price than 100 percent gasoline. The inspectors were willing — for a small fee — to set the pump meters so that 2/3 of a gallon showed up as a full gallon. Rabbi Zayat insisted on honest pumps and pure gasoline. His business boomed as word got out to cabbies and truck drivers that the Rabbi’s gasoline was blessed. At his station you had to fill up only once a week while at all others you had to fill up twice as often.

Pressure from the competition, the suppliers and the inspectors made doing business very difficult for the Rabbi. He went to his Rav, Harav Greineman, to ask advice. The Rav said: “There is no place for an honest man in a dishonest business.” Rabbi Zayat closed his gas station and found another way to make a living. (He subsequently opened a yeshivah in Bnei Brak called Shetilei Zetim, which has grown over the years to over 1000 students, baruch Hashem.)

The section immediately following the command to keep honest weights and measures recounts the attack of Amalek on the Jewish people upon their departure from Egypt. Why is this event told again — 40 years later — and why adjacent to laws about honest dealing?

Rabbi Mordechai Schwab was very ill when two young businessmen from New York City drove to Monsey, N.Y. to visit him. One asked the elderly Sage, “Rabbi, why is it our people are suffering so much in so many ways?” Rabbi Schwab answered immediately, “Are we honest in our business dealings?” The Rabbi connected the troubles our people suffer with the dishonest ways we have learned to accept. The Torah says: “Keep honest weights and measures; if not, remember the attack of Amalek.”

May we all take this lesson to heart. We must clean up our business practices and trade with others in a manner that is 100 percent in line with the demands of Hashem. Zero tolerance to dishonesty could lead to zero troubles for Am Yisrael. Amen.

Shabbat shalom.


Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.