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Parashat Ki-Teseh: Emuna and Honesty

Parashat Ki-Teseh concludes with two Misvot which, at first glance, are entirely unrelated. The first is the command to use honest weights and measures when conducting business. The Torah strictly forbids deceiving people, such as customers, by tampering with the scales and other devices in order to overcharge. This command is followed by the Misva to remember Amalek’s brazen, unprovoked attack against Beneh Yisrael after the Exodus from Egypt, and the requirement to obliterate the memory of Amalek.

Rashi, based on the Midrash, writes that these two Misvot are actually very closely related. He writes: "If you lie in regard to weights and measures, then you must worry about the provocation of the enemy." The Torah links these two commands to teach us that the punishment for dishonest weights and measures is coming under attack by enemies such as Amalek.

However, in the Book of Shemot, Rashi seems to view Amalek’s attack differently. The story of the war against Amalek follows the events that occurred in Masa U’meriba, where Beneh Yisrael complained about the lack of water, and asked, "Ha’yesh Hashem Be’kirbenu, Im Ayin" – "Is G-d in our midst, or not?" (Shemot 17:7). Rashi (Shemot 27:8) comments that it was because of this lack of faith, the people’s wondering whether Hashem was with them and caring for them, that Hashem sent Amalek to attack them. Whereas here in Parashat Ki-Teseh Rashi attributes Amalek’s attack to the sin of dishonesty in commerce, in Sefer Shemot, Rashi writes that this event served to punish the people for their lack of Emuna.

Rav Shimon Schwab (1908-1995) explained that in truth, these are one and the same, two sides of the same coin.

The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (31a) teaches that each person, after leaving this world, will be asked three questions, one of which is, "Nasata Ve’natata Be’emuna?" – whether or not he conducted his financial affairs "Be’emuna" – honestly, in a trustworthy manner, without misleading or deceiving people. Rav Schwab noted that "Be’emuna" also means "with faith," meaning, conducting one’s business affairs with faith in Hashem. These are not two different meanings of the phrase "Nasata Ve’natata Be’emuna," but rather two aspects of the same outlook. If a person has faith in Hashem, and firmly believes that regardless of his efforts, he never receives more or less than what Hashem decides he should have, then he will naturally conduct his affairs honestly. A person with Emuna understands that in the long term, no benefit can possibly be received from ill-begotten gains. If we believe in Hashem, then we believe that we will always have precisely what Hashem gives us, and that if we obtain money or other assets in ways which He strictly forbids, such as through dishonesty, we will ultimately lose it. A person with Emuna will never try to cheat somebody to earn money – because he believes that his livelihood depends solely on Hashem, who will clearly take away anything he gains by violating the Torah, and will reward him for any sacrifices made for the sake of observing the Torah.

Thus, Rashi’s comments are not at all contradictory. Amalek comes as punishment for a lack of Emuna, and for this same reason, Amalek comes as punishment for false weights and measures, for deceiving people in business. These are two sides of the exact same coin.

Let us conduct all our affairs with firm Emuna, so that we will not even be tempted, or entertain a fleeting thought, to "cut corners" or do anything even slightly unethical. Let us reinforce our belief that we have nothing to gain through dishonesty, and we have everything to gain by adhering to the Torah’s strict standards of ethics and morality.

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