The pasuk at the end of Parshas Ki Seitzei says, “Remember that which Amalek did to you on the path when you came out of Egypt.” (Devorim 25:17) This is the parsha we read on the Shabbos before Purim. The truth is that a person can fulfill his obligation to ‘remember the obliteration of Amalek’ by hearing this reading this week on Parshas Ki Seitzei as well, provided the Baal Koreh has in mind to be ‘motzi‘ him and he has in mind to be ‘yotzei‘ with the reading of the Baal Koreh.
Rashi here comments on the juxtaposition of the parsha of “Zachor es asher asa lecha Amalek” with the previous parsha which warns against possessing improperly calibrated scales (allowing the owner of those scales to cheat his customers in business). A person is required to utilize strictly calibrated weights and measures in his commerce transactions.
Rashi explains in the name of the Medrash Tanchuma: If a person possesses deceitful weights and measures, he must worry about the enemy. Cheating in business will lead to attacks from Amalek and his ilk.
This seems like a rather novel idea. There are so many significant prohibitions in the Torah. Someone fixing his scales so that he can cheat his customer out of a couple of ounces of merchandise does not seem to be the worst thing in the world. True, it is dishonest, and it is a form of theft, which is very bad, but why is this the aveira (sin) that invites attack from Amalek? If the issue here is g’neivah (theft), let the Torah state here “Lo signov” (you shall not steal), which indicates a much more blatant aveira than tweaking scales. Why will the specific aveira of owning imprecise weights and measures cause the Ribono shel Olam to send Amalek against us?
There is a very important Netziv at the end of the parsha on this pasuk of “Zachor es asher asa lecha Amalek…” The Netziv asks this very question. The Netziv further points out that there were no weights and measures in the midbar because there was no commerce taking place there. But more generally, the Netziv asks, why specifically this prohibition? The Netziv magnifies the question by citing a Gemara (Bava Basra 88b) that the aveira of possessing improper weights is greater than the aveira of gilui arayos (sexual immorality)! This is a scary statement! Gilui arayos is one of the gimel chamuros – the three categories of aveira for which a person needs to suffer martyrdom rather than transgress them.
Why is that true? The Netziv quotes the Gemara in Baba Basra about these “Three Cardinal Sins” — Giluy arayos, Shefichas damim (murder), and Avodah Zarah (idolatry). Why are these three aveiros the most serious? It certainly is not merely because each carries the death penalty, for there are also other aveiros that carry the death penalty.
The Netziv explains that there are only three reasons why a person sins. All aveiros are a result of one of three spiritual shortcomings:
(1) Lack of Emunah (belief in G-d). I commit an aveira because I believe that G-d does not know or care about what I am doing.
(2) Tayvah (lust). In other words, my Yetzer HaRah overcame me. It was too tempting – whatever it may be – forbidden sexual relations; forbidden food consumption, whatever it is.
(3) Midos ra’os (bad character traits) – Anger, haughtiness, jealousy, etc.
The Netziv says that these three categories are considered the most severe because they represent the essence of these three shortcomings. Avodah Zarah is pure, unadulterated, lack of emunah, in that idolatry epitomizes the aveira of lacking belief in G-d. Gilui arayos is the quintessential aveira of tayvah, in that sexual immorality epitomizes this second branch – the classic aveira of lust. Finally, Shefichas damim: Murder results from extremely bad character traits. They are either so angry with a person or they have lost control of themselves. Either way, it is midos ra’os. That is why these three categories of aveira are the Cardinal Sins.
Sometimes a person can have a combination of more than one of these spiritual shortcomings. If someone keeps his store open on Shabbos, what is that all about? For one thing, it indicates a lack of emunah. But it also involves a tayvah for money.
The Netziv asks, which is the worst of these three Cardinal Sins (and corresponding root spiritual shortcomings)? The Netziv suggests that Avodah Zarah is worst. With sexual immorality, we can understand how the person succumbed to his passions. His Yetzer HaRah got the better of him. Anger, Jealousy, and all the bad character traits are a terrible thing. To lose control and want to kill someone is terrible. But we know what it’s like when we get angry and lose control. We can relate to it even if we cannot justify or condone it. But the worst of the worst is Avodah Zarah – lack of emunah. There is no lust for idolatry. So what is it? It is simply that the person does not believe in the Ribono shel Olam. That is the worst aveira.
The Netziv concludes: Now we understand the gravity of “If one is deceitful in weights and measures…” The essence of this aveira is not lust for money. Making an extra five cents or ten cents on the sale of another quarter pound of corned beef is not a tayvah issue. Maybe stealing a car or some precious jewelry is rooted in tayvah. The person’s Yetzer HaRah overcame him. But cheating in weights? I don’t think anyone ever became wealthy because he tampered with his weights. Of course, pennies add up to large sums, but people with a lust for money are not satisfied by acquiring ill-gotten gains in such small increments.
The essence of the aveira of someone who cheats on weights and measures is that he doesn’t believe the Ribono shel Olam provides for the livelihood of individuals. Therefore, he needs to cut corners. He needs to squeeze every little extra bit out of his commercial transactions because he is not sure he is going to make enough money otherwise. This demonstrates lack of emunah.
That is why the preamble to Zachor es asher asa lecha Amalek is not just “Lo signov” (Do not steal). Lo signov is about lust for money. That is a bad enough aveira. However, possessing dishonest weights and measures is an aveira rooted in a far greater spiritual shortcoming: Lack of emunah.
What is Amalek all about? The pasuk says: “V’lo Yareh Elokim” (Devorim 25:18) – They did not fear G-d. Amalek is that power in the world that denies the existence of the Ribono shel Olam. That is why they “jumped into the scalding hot bath before any other nation.” They could not tolerate a nation who represented Hashem in this world. Amalek is all about lack of emunah. If a person is dishonest regarding weights and measures, he does not believe that the Ribono shel Olam provides parnassah (livelihood). That lack of emunah creates a susceptibility to the punishment of Amalek, who represent lack of emunah.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Edited by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Ki Seitzei is provided below:
- #020 – Non-Halachic Marriage Ceremonies
- #065 – Polygamy and the Cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom
- #110 – Mamzeirus: Possible Solutions?
- #156 – Reconciling Divergent Customs Between Husband and Wife
- #203 – The Pre-War “Get”
- #250 – The Mitzvah of Ma’akeh
- #293 – “Get Me’useh”: The Prohibition of the “Forced Get”
- #339 – Shana Reshona: The First Year of Marriage
- #383 – The Mitzvah of Burial
- #427 – Trying on Suits that May Have Shatnes
- #471 – Autopsies on Non-Jews
- #515 – Women Wearing Men’s Clothing
- #559 – The Double Portion of the Be’chor
- #603 – Burying a Rasha Next to a Tzadik
- #647 – Ramps and Stages – Do They Need a Maakeh?
- #691 – Chassanah Minhagim
- #735 – Brachos in a Bathroom?
- #779 – Shehecheyanu at a Chasuna
- #823 – Tzar Ba’al Hachayim – Does It Apply to People?
- #867 – Dying Hair For Men – Asur or Mutar?
- #911 – Returning a Lost Pacifier
- #955 – The Un-Cancelled Stamp – Can You Re-use it?
- #998 – Making a Bracha for Building a Ma’akeh?
- #1042 – Dressing Up As A Woman for Chasunah Dancing and on Purim?
- #1086 – A Bracha for Shiluach Hakein?
- #1129 – The Ani Who Picked Up Your $20 bill
- #1171 – Dating Someone Before You Are Divorced?
- #1259 – Shiluach Hakain – On Shabbos? From Your Back Porch?
- #1303 – Is A Woman Allowed to Carry a Gun?
- #1347 – The Case of the Frail Grandfather and the Bracha Under the Chupa
- #1391 – Shalom Aleichem – Before or After Kiddush?
- #1435 – Paying a Worker on Time- A Mitzva De’oraisah
- #1479 – The Famous/Infamous Case Of The Get Of Cleeves
- #1523 – The Lesser of Two Evils? Autopsy Versus Cremation
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.