By Steven Weiss
In this week’s double Torah portion (Acharei / Kedoshim) the 6th Aliyah (4th Aliyah of Kedoshim) discusses business ethics: “In your business dealings, you must not commit a perversion of justice with regard to measures of length and area, weight, or liquid or dry volume. Rather, you must have accurate scales, accurate weights, an accurate container for measuring dry volume and an accurate container for measuring liquid volume….” (Leviticus 19-35 and 36)
I find it interesting that the prohibition regarding inaccurate weights and measures includes not only their use, of course, but even making or holding them in one’s possession even if they are never used. This demonstrates the application of this rule with zero tolerance, meaning that there is no minimum threshold for this violation, unlike stealing where de minimis amounts may not prosecuted. On the one hand this rule seems to run contrary to the idea of “innocent until proven guilty.” The possession of false measures that haven’t been used seems harmless enough. Someone who possess them is just keeping them in reserve in order to choose whether to assess things from different perspective later. On the other hand, however, before a person who possesses false measurements actually uses them they have already indulged an alternative view on moral values. Holding on to false weights means holding on to a dishonest set of values, even if in actual practice, only the proper set of values are used.
According to religious sages, the reason for this rule is because the creation or possession of flawed weights has more to do with the loss of integrity than the potential loss of money, and while monetary loss can be measured and paid back, the loss of integrity cannot. The Torah teaches us that we must employ the same “complete and honest” measure with regard to all aspects of our lives, thereby intending to negate all temptations leading toward deception.
To practice these principles in all our affairs means that we view every aspect of life with a single, accurate and honest measurement. We accept as truth that, ultimately, it is not possible to maintain one set of values for our personal lives and then another for our business dealings.
Perhaps this is one reason why Rabbinic scholars believe the question “Did you deal honestly in business?” is the first question we are asked after we die and come before G-d on the day of our Divine judgment.
Rabbinic texts explain that this and other questions are used to determine whether while we were physically alive we were controlled more by material animalistic influences than by spiritual influences, and thus whether we were physical creatures having occasional spiritual experiences or whether we were permanent spiritual beings having temporary physical experiences.
How we conduct ourselves in business is not only a test of our trust in G-d – that sufficient resources will be there for us when needed – but how we deal with money is the seminal test of our moral character in a faith that fundamentally allows free choice. It is how we deal with money and business ethics above all, that demonstrates our belief in G-d.
All too often in modern American society, money is taken to an extreme, such that money becomes the measure of a person. We speak of a person’s “net worth,” referring to the amount of financial resources he or she has, as though that has any meaningful bearing on the worth of a person. Many people believe that they have a “right” to all of the monetary resources they produce, forgetting that it is G-d who provides what we have and that we are stewards for the resources that come our way (a reminder that is part of our morning prayers). This attitude and the temptation brought by money heightens the test and the results thereof. Assuming it is true that on Judgment Day we face our creator, it’s not too late to possess only honest measures and to apply only honesty in business and money matters, to be a giver rather than a taker and to be calm and generous rather than fearful and miserly.
Steven Weiss is a proud member of the Buffalo Jewish community.