Parashat Ki Teitzei

Friday, September 13, 2019 /13 Elul, 5779
Parashat Ki Teitzei Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, includes seventy-two of the six hundred and thirteen commandments. As we move further into the book of Deuteronomy, Moses vocalizes his wishes that the people follow God’s laws when they enter the Promised Land. Moses speaks about war, marriage, and our responsibilities to one another. As we enter the High Holy Day season, one commandment in particular caught my eye:

“You shall not have in your bag different weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house different measures, a large and a small. A perfect and just weight shall you have; a perfect and just measure shall you have; that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Deuteronomy 25:13-15)

We’d like to think that our measuring tools are objective and equal, so that all business is conducted fairly. In ancient times, this was nearly impossible. Without calibrated measuring devices, Israelites relied upon the only units of measurement that were freely available. They used a medium-sized hen’s egg to measure volume, and the side of one’s thumb to measure breadth. As thumbs and eggs are anything but uniform, merchants could easily work the measurements to their benefit, taking advantage of their fellow. Mistakes could easily be made. It wouldn’t be until the French revolution and the creation of the metric system that the world would use the same unit of measurement. Only then would the world create a system of measurement “for all time, for all people.” We have gone a long way from the ancient units of eggs and thumb size in measuring volume and breadth, but other kinds of measurement remain highly subjective.

Imagine you are standing in line waiting to purchase a shirt. The line is moving slowly. You look at your watch, thinking about the myriad of other places you need to go. Finally there is only one person in front of you. Then, that person’s phone rings. She picks up and has a conversation. The person at the cash register is forced to wait for this distracted customer. How would you judge the customer’s actions?

Now imagine yourself at the register. You’ve had the worst week of your life. Your parent died, and you are planning a funeral while in a state of shock and grief. You run to the store for what you hope will be a quick trip, to pick up a black outfit to wear to the service. You are stuck in line for what seems like ages. Then finally your phone rings. It’s your daughter who calls in tears. You pick up the phone to talk to her, trying to balance her needs with your purchase at the register. You know others are getting annoyed at how long the transaction is taking, but what can you do? How would you want to be judged?

I’d like to think I’d judge the customer at the register with compassion and patience, but there are times when I fall short. It is human to judge others differently than how we want to be judged. Moses’ words about equal scales may have been in reference to fair business dealings but they apply to the way we measure one another’s actions as well.

Pirkei Avot teaches us “Judge the entire person favorably.” (1:6) We pray that God will judge us kindly during the Days of Awe, considering our good intentions, our thoughtful acts and the effort we put into being good people. So too may we be inspired to use the same weights and measures when considering our fellow human beings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Cassi Kail