Dishonest Weights


Moshe Ben-Chaim



In Leviticus 19:35-37 we read:

“Do not perform falsehood in justice, in length, in weight, and in volume. Righteous (accurate) scales, righteous stones, righteous dry measures and righteous liquid measures there shall be to you, I am Ha-shem your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall guard all My statutes and all My judgments, and you shall do them, I am Ha-shem.”


Later, in In Deuteronomy, 25:13-16 the Torah commands us again regarding these weights:

“You shall not have to yourself in your pocket, stone (weight) and (another) stone, a larger and smaller. You shall not have to yourself in your house, dry measure weight, and (another) dry measure weight, a larger and smaller. A complete and righteous stone weight you shall have to yourself, a complete and righteous dry measure weight you shall have to yourself, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that Ha-shem your G-d gives to you. For it is an abomination of Ha-shem your G-d all who make these, all who perform falsehood.”


We must understand what is the crime of dishonest weights. Crooked individuals care but for their own wealth, and cheat to obtain it. Let us take an example from produce, which is weighed when bought and sold. Let’s make the buyer our swindler: The buyer tells a storeowner he wishes to purchase one pound of rice. This buyer then proceeds to take out his own “pound” weight to weigh what the storeowner placed on the scale. However, the buyer is crooked and uses what only ‘seems’ to be a pound weight. In fact, that weight is larger. In essence, the buyer obtains more than a pound’s worth of rice, but pays only the price of a single pound. He has cheated the storeowner for the cost of the excess. This same swindler may also sell his own produce: here, he is approached by a buyer seeking two pounds of apples. The swindler now uses a different weight - one which is less than a pound, as he hollowed out the bottom, so the buyers are unaware. The swindler proceeds to weigh two pounds of apples. In truth, the buyer, unknowingly, receives less than two pounds, although the swindler charged him for two pounds. Again, the swindler cheated someone. We now understand why the Torah formulates the prohibition against both types of weights, a lesser and a larger. (Kli Yakar)


The reason the Torah records the same law multiple times, with differences in each case, is to enable our detection of additional facets, parameters, and implications of that law. What are some differences between the laws of dishonest weights recorded in Leviticus, and in Deuteronomy? I will list each question by number, and at the very end, offer possible answers correlating to these numbers:


1) Leviticus grouped weights together with the command no to oppress the convert. What is the equation between dishonest weights and oppressing converts, and why is it mentioned only in Leviticus?

2) In Deuteronomy, why are we not commanded against ‘using’ these weights? Isn’t this the true corruption, when we use them to cheat another? Deuteronomy does not seem to forbid ‘use’ - but addresses only their possession and creation. Why?

3) In general, why isn’t “dishonest weights” subsumed under “stealing”? How are dishonest weights different than stealing or robbery, that the Torah has a separate command against them? Is the crime equal, worse, or less grave a sin? It would appear that dishonest weights are far worse, as the Torah does not call stealing an abomination.

4) Why is the term “abomination” referred to only in Deuteronomy?

5) Deuteronomy commands that one may not have these weights in his pocket or in his house. What is significant about these two domains?

6) What is Maimonides’ principle that one who uses dishonest weights is “likened to one who denies the Egyptian Exodus”?

7) Why the division of the laws regarding weights into two locations, Leviticus and Deuteronomy?


Do the verses give us any indications? Certainly. By categorizing our two Torah instances of dishonest weights, we will create a framework within which we may approach some possible answers.


Leviticus - Prohibiting Action

It appears from Leviticus that this section addresses the prohibition of ‘action’, “Do not perform falsehood in justice,...” Here alone do we find the prohibition not to swindle, in action. However, these words are not found in Deuteronomy. Abusing another person’s ignorance for the purpose by stealing is prohibited only in Leviticus. Here, we are warned against only the “act” of swindling per se.


Perhaps this also explains why Leviticus grouped dishonest weights with the laws of abusing the convert. In both cases, a person is forbidden to capitalize on another individual’s vulnerability; a convert may be abused for his faulty past, and a neighbor’s ignorance through dishonest weights. Rashi explains why the words “I am Ha-shem your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt” follow these laws of dishonest weights in Leviticus: to indicate that just as in Egypt, G-d discerned between a drop of semen which was a firstborn and which was not, so too G-d will discern and punish one who cheats with dishonest weights. What does Rashi teach on another level? The one who uses dishonest weights is denying that G-d. Rashi says a response is necessary for the swindler to hear. He must be reminded of G-d’s “Seeing Eye”. However, we may ask, in Ethics of the Fathers, 2:1, we are told that by “pondering three matters, man refrains from sin; a Seeing Eye, a Hearing Ear, and that all our actions are recorded in a book.” One who swindles does not pay heed to the Seeing Eye. He cares about man’s eye, but not G-d’s. But can we not say this denial of the Seeing Eye (G-d) exists in ALL Torah violations? So wherein does this sin differ? Also, why is the use of dishonest weights an “abomination”? Unkelos was praised for his precise translations. He translates “abomination” as “distanced from G-d”. How is this applicable here, more than in other cases?


I believe the answer is derived from the difference between robbers and thieves. A robber is not considered as corrupt as a thief. The robber steals in daylight, even confronting the victim. His fear of G-d is equal, or rather, as minimal, as his fear of man. He has no gumption about stealing from right in front of you. His fear of man is absent, as is his fear of G-d’s commands. However, a thief steals by night, or covertly. Why? His fear of man is greater than his fear of G-d. He wishes not to confront man, but G-d’s laws are of no concern to him. Man is raised higher than G-d. For this reason, Rashi states what he did: that a swindler needs to hear the rebuke of denying G-d’s “Seeing Eye”. It is the swindler who disregards G-d’s knowledge of his sin, so it is the swindler who requires this specific rebuke.


One may ask, if a thief also raises his fear of man above G-d, why is he not considered an “abomination”? For this question, we now make recourse to our section in Deuteronomy.


Deuteronomy - Prohibiting a Philosophy

We asked why in Deuteronomy there is no prohibition on the swindling act per se. I believe it is because in Deuteronomy, the violation described is not the “act”. What then is the additional prohibition? The prohibition in Deuteronomy is to possess or create these dishonest weights, “You shall not have to yourself in your pocket, stone (weight) and (another) stone, a larger and smaller”, and “For it is an abomination of Ha-shem your G-d all who make these...”


But if we don’t use these weights, what infraction is there? The answer is that Torah laws do not guide actions alone, but also our philosophies. We are commanded in Deuteronomy not to subscribe to a life of cheating and swindling. Here, it is the “philosophy” that we are commanded against - not the action. The Torah’s words bear this out, as we find no prohibition on any ‘act’ of swindling in Deuteronomy. Leviticus is where we find the prohibition on the action - not so in Deuteronomy. Here, G-d is teaching us that there is a separate corruption in man of simply subscribing to a life where he wishes to cheat. No actual cheating need be committed to violate this second aspect of dishonest weights. The mere possession of these weights in your pocket, in your house, or their creation, is in fact the violation.


A Corruption of Mind

Why is the possession or creation of dishonest weights worse than theft, that “abomination” is applied to the former? There is a difference: a thief may steal once or twice. But this in no way displays his philosophy of life. He may steal out of desperation. But one who manufactures or possesses these weights, displays that this is an acceptable mode of operation, i.e., an “acceptable” way of life. Subscribing to a life-long philosophy of corruption is an “abomination”, a distancing from G-d, where a one-time act is not. Man sins until he dies, there is no escape. His emotions flare up at times. This is our nature, “For man is not righteous in the land who does good and does not sin”. (Ecclesiastes, 7:20) But premeditated corruption is something far worse - one’s mind has now been compromised. Thus, one who possesses, or creates dishonest weights, thereby confirms his value in swindling a fellow man, despite G-d’s commands. “G-d wrath is of no concern, but man’s wrath must be avoided.” Here, man has committed himself to an unjust philosophy - he has corrupted his thinking, his very essence as a Tzelem Elokim - an intelligent being - has been forfeited. Here, man sacrifices his soul.


Thief and swindler alike share one common corruption: they don’t simply deny G-d’s laws - they deny G-d. This denial is not one out of an excited emotion, like eating non-Kosher on an occasion, or one illicit, sexual relation. Their corruption is a direct distortion of G-d: they replace G-d with man as the ultimately, feared being. Gratifying a temporal, emotional urge does not distort G-d’s position in our minds. Thievery and swindling do. Although they share common ground, “abomination” is reserved for the one whose distortion enters the realm of one’s mind, i.e., the swindler. Unkelos translates abomination as “distancing” oneself from G-d. Here, man distorts the very Kingship of G-d.



Maimonides on Dishonest Weights

Maimonides makes an astounding comment in his Hilchos G’neva (Laws of Stealing), 7:12:

“More harsh is the punishment for dishonest weights, than the punishment for illicit sexual relations. For this one (weights) is between him and G-d, where as this one (illicit sexual relations) is between him and man. And anyone who denies the laws of dishonest weights, is likened to one who denies the Egyptian Exodus, as it is the commencement of this command. And anyone who accepts the laws of dishonest weights, this one admits to the Exodus, as it is the cause of all commands.”


I understand Maimonides’ first statement - corruption in matters pertaining to G-d as more severe. Man denies G-d more in the area of dishonest weights, than in sexual prohibitions. But what is he saying, that not abiding by these laws regarding weights is likened to a denial of the Exodus? Why a denial of the Exodus, any more than a denial of Sinai, or anything else? And what aspect of the Exodus is being denied? Its historical truth? This makes no sense, that someone would deny accepted history. Maimonides must refer to a denial of another facet of the Exodus. What facet? Another question is, how is the Exodus the “commencement of this command”, as Maimonides states? Sinai is where we received the Torah! Sinai is the “commencement of the command”.


We are forced to ask: how does the Exodus differ from Sinai? The Exodus granted us freedom. Sinai is where we received the Torah laws. But the goal of the Egyptian Exodus was not for ‘freedom’ per se. Freedom was granted only for our adherence to the Torah, soon to be received.


The first laws, which G-d gave us at Sinai, were the laws addressing slavery. Why? We were just released from slavery. These laws addressed the very state in man that is despicable in G-d’s eyes, i.e., human servitude. The end of human servitude is primary for the fulfillment of G-d’s laws. Human servitude eclipses servitude to G-d. Removal from slavery is not the good in itself. What’s wrong with working for another man, and earning your livelihood? No. Our release from bondage was in order that we be free to follow the Torah, but more essentially, to serve G-d and not man. Human servitude directly obscures man’s direct relationship with G-d. The very institution of slavery is the antithesis of Torah. Slavery epitomizes man’s psychological dependency on another - the state of a child. One who yearns for a human master displays his retardation - he has not advanced from the infantile state of dependency. Such a Jew has his ear awled. For the ear is what heard at Sinai, “My servants are you, and not servants to servants.” Man was designed to travel through infantile dependency, not make it his destination. Ultimately, man must see others as equals; only G-d should maintain the position as “Master”. When G-d freed us, this was the “commencement of the commands.” We understand Maimonides latter statement.


But why does Maimonides explain the use of dishonest weights to be a “denial of the Exodus”? We said, Maimonides must have not been referring to the denial of the historical truth of the Exodus. To what does he refer? I believe he refers to the feature of “emancipation”. The Exodus alone - and no other event - granted man freedom from human manipulation. It rendered man capable of exercising his free will unconditionally.


Now, besides slavery, there is one other institution that obscures our freedom - “dishonest weights”. However, it is not like one might initially think. “Unjust weights” obscures freedom, not for the victim, but for the swindler. How? Let me explain: In slavery, one is psychologically bound to another - this is from the vantage point of the slave. The slave prefers to have a human directing his life. He is insecure and requires constant direction. In dishonest weights, here too one is psychologically bound. But here, the one bound is the swindler. The swindler desires to manipulate man. He “tricks man’s mind”. This manipulation gives man the feeling of dominance, when in fact, he should be subservient to G-d. The swindler prefers the life where man is his focus, even though the swindler is dominant, unlike the slave who is subservient. But it makes no difference. Whether a slave, or a swindler, both wish to abandon the freedom granted by the Exodus intended for focusing on G-d, and instead, opt for a life relating primarily to man and not G-d. The slave’s situation removes G-d as his Master, but from an emotion of insecurity. The swindler too has removed G-d from his focus, not from insecurity, but from the exact opposite emotion; the need to manipulate man. A slave is subservient - the swindler is dominant. Both individuals deviate from relating to G-d, selecting man for their primary relationship in life.


Maimonides teaches a solid principle: slaves and swindlers opt for a relationship with man over a relationship with G-d. They deny the “goal” (not the historical truth) of the Exodus: that man be free to relate to G-d through His Torah system.


In another location, Maimonides states a philosophical point, much in line with our command against dishonest weights: In his Commentary on the Mishna, Maimonides states that in business dealings, one should seek transactions where one’s client or customer obtains equal profit to himself. We must not be self-centered, resembling vultures seeking to devour our clients wealth. Our clients’ possessions are no less important before G-d’s eyes, than our own. The very fact that man is a species (i.e., G-d wills many members of mankind) teaches the concept of “equality”. One should observe and take to heart, “G-d doesn’t wish my existence alone, but all members of mankind - G-d’s will extends to all humans, equally.” But if this truth is not apparent enough, Leviticus teaches that we should not oppress the convert, nor use dishonest weights. Equality is G-d’s will.


The truth is, greed is counter-productive to its imagined goal: it creates a society where those wishing to accumulate unjustly, will have their own amassed wealth robbed by other greedy individuals, who follow their lead. How ironically just.



Many salient principles are discovered through studying the laws regarding dishonest weights:

1) Leviticus teaches we may not use these weights, as they are acts of oppression, just like oppressing converts.

2) Deuteronomy teaches that dishonest weights are distinct from other commands, in that mere possession is a violation. The inactivity of “possession” (or active creation) is the violation. Making or possessing such weights expresses subscribing to a corrupt philosophy.

3) Possession of these weights displays a severe distortion in man; he values G-d’s word less than man. Rashi taught us that as G-d discerns a drop of semen, so too, He discerns our acts, which we tragically feel are hidden from G-d’s “eyes”. The violator who uses these weights replaces G-d with man, as one to be feared most.

4) We also understand why “abomination” is used only in Deuteronomy: it is here alone where the Torah outlines one who has subscribed to a corrupt philosophy by mere possession of these weights. In Leviticus, only the ‘use’ of dishonest weights is prohibited. But ‘use’ is a one-time event, not deserving of the term “abomination”. It is only he who creates or possesses these weights, who has corrupted his mind and morality in a permanent way.

5) What is the reasoning for the prohibition against possessing these weights in one’s pocket or house? In one’s pocket means he is ready to use them at any point - it is his current philosophy. But not only in actual business is he corrupt. Perhaps keeping these weights at home displays that his entire philosophy of life - his home - is permeated with the greed that propels one into such selfish behavior.

6) Maimonides’ Laws of Stealing teaches that whether one is a slave or a swindler, he errs, opting for a relationship with man over a relationship with G-d. The slave serves man, while the swindler manipulates man. Both are two ends of one spectrum. In both cases, man denies the goal of the Exodus: that man be detached from personal relationships, free to relate to G-d through His Torah system.

7) Why the division of the laws regarding weights into two locations, Leviticus and Deuteronomy? Is this to teach that “dishonest weights” is not the essential institution; otherwise, all aspects would be located in one location? Perhaps the division of these laws, as is done with other laws, indicates that other features are more essential to Torah, than are the specific parameters of a given command. What I mean is, had we seen all laws of dishonest weights centrally located in one Torah portion, our attention would not be directed away from this institution. But as we see the “action” (Leviticus) separated from the “philosophical subscription to corruption” (Deuteronomy), we are thereby led to focus on THESE categories, which otherwise would possibly go undetected. Do we learn from this that these categories dominate the institution? Meaning, the smaller institution of dishonest weights is not as central, as is the ‘greater’ lesson of not corrupting our philosophy. Unjust weights are merely an example of the greater, categorical corruption of a distorting one’s philosophy in thought alone. Possession of these weights is a sampling of how one can philosophically err. But by the Torah separating out this aspect of these weights, we are driven to identify this category: that we must be philosophically sound, even if we don’t “act” corruptly.


This last comment is only speculation. In no way can we suggest conclusive reasons for commands. We may only suggest possibilities. We cannot know G-d’s intent or thoughts. I feel this is even more applicable regarding this last question. I wish only to suggest a possibility, and I invite your feedback.


Having come this far, discussing “scales of justice”, let us be cognizant of our upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanna, wherein G-d weighs our merits and sins, judging us with ultimate truth. We must comprehend that all is known before Him. “All is written in a book”. But now, it is our lives which are in the balance. Take this to heart. Study what is the right path. Understand the perfections granted to us by G-d through His Torah system. We must examine our ways, abandoning sinful acts and character traits, and aligning ourselves with the correct path leading to a life of truth, and a true life.