Ramin loved the sounds and noise of the metals enclave. He loved being a metal merchant. He didn’t have to work up a sweat. He did not work the hot forges. He did not scavenge for metal remains. He was the connector. Bringing two needy parties together and making a nice profit for his effort.
Just a stone throw away from the Tabernacle, in the section of the Ephramite tribe, all the various metal workers and traders had set up their work stations. Hammers clanging, bellows blowing and the tinkle of silver pieces being counted were music to Ramin’s flabby ears. Ramin sat in his tent. One side of his tent was completely open with just his stool and his work table between the dust-covered passersby and his store of metals. Sacks and crates of copper, tin, bronze, lead and iron adorned his tent. The smell of rust pervaded it.
He knew today would be an especially propitious day as he caressed the new weight he had fashioned. It was the size of his heavy fist and had the dull brown color of lead. Ramin tested the new weight again on his scale. It’s just a tenth heavier. No one will notice, he thought. With his big paws he gingerly put the weight aside and looked for prey.
Ramin rubbed his hands as he noticed old Arki limping towards his stall. My first one, Ramin thought. Arki is old school. He’ll be easy to dupe.
“Arki! Come here!” he called. “I’ll give you a good deal on your metal. What do you have?”
Arki wheezed as he took the heavy sack off his hunched back, letting it drop to the desert ground.
“Copper,” he said with a toothless grin. “I have about ten ingots worth of copper scrap. What will you give me for it?”
“Two silver pieces.”
Arki grabbed his sack.
Arki lifted his sack.
“Okay. Four. But only because I like you and I’m feeling very generous today.”
Arki placed the heavy sack on his shoulder and turned away.
“Five! Five is my final price. You won’t get better by anyone else.”
Arki turned around and placed the sack back on the floor. He proceeded to pull out handfuls of old copper utensils – broken pot handles, knives, spearheads and other misshapen metal remains. He also retrieved a solid ten ingot weight measure.
“Let me use mine, Arki. It’s brand new. Look.”
Arki held out his hand to Ramin. Hesitantly, Ramin gave Arki the ten-weight. Arki bounced the weight in his hand, balanced it on his palm and sniffed it. He smiled a quick tight smirk that Ramin barely noticed.
“Fine. But we use my scale.” Out of his sack, Arki pulled a short, elaborately decorated scale and placed it on Ramin’s worktable. “Let me make sure it’s properly balanced.” Arki adjusted the tiny knobs and levers. He tested both sides of the scale by pushing down with his palms. Arki took his hands off the scale and let Ramin see how the scale was evenly balanced, with no weight on it.
Satisfied, Ramin quickly placed his weight on one side of the scale.
“Let’s see what you have,” Ramin declared.
Arki took copper pieces, started biting them and placed them one by one on the other side of the scale.
“I still don’t understand why you have to taste them, Arki. Just from looking I can tell the condition it’s in.”
“Old habit. Besides, the blacksmiths would be unhappy with poor quality. Ugh, this one’s rusty.” Arki threw the distasteful arrowhead back in his bag. “This one’s half tin.” He tossed a pot handle into the bag.
Ramin’s weight slowly moved up, as the pile of Arki’s copper on the other side grew. Ramin’s smile widened as Arki placed more copper on the scale.
“There,” Arki announced. “Ten ingots worth.” Ramin put his hand in his pocket and counted out five silver pieces into Arki’s palsied hand.
Ramin took the copper off the scale and placed the weight under his table. Arki took his scale and placed it in his sack.
“By the way, who do you think you’ll sell the copper to?” Arki asked.
“I know Gavri was asking for some – look! Today must be my lucky day. Here he comes.”
A tall, dark, grey haired blacksmith, with a soot stained work robe, approached Ramin’s station.
“Good day, Arki,” Gavri bowed lightly. “It is always good to see an old master. How is the trade?”
“Productive,” Arki bowed back.
“Ramin, did you just buy some copper from this good man?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. How much do you need? Two, three, four ingots worth? I’ll give you a good deal on five.”
“I need ten. I just received a big order from the Benjaminates. Suddenly they all want my pots.”
“Okay. That will be ten silvers.”
“Ten silvers? Arki, how much did he just pay you for your copper?”
“Five? Ramin, I’ll give you six.”
“Six? Ten is my normal profit margin, I –“
“That might be your margin when I purchase small amounts, but I’m buying much more, and you only just got the copper now. It’s a whole silver gain for doing almost nothing.”
Arki barked a laugh. “You can try out Ramin’s new ten-weight.”
“I think my old weight will be fine for this order,” Ramin coughed.
“Old weight? New weight? What’s going on? What’s wrong with the weights?” Gavri’s fists moved to his hips.
“Yes. What’s wrong with the weights?” Arki echoed loudly. “I would expect you to use the same ten-weight you used with me moments ago.”
Merchants came over to see the commotion. A crowd formed around Ramin’s station. Sweat ran down his forehead. He wiped it away with the sleeve of his robe. Ramin took out his own unadorned scale and put it on the table. He placed his new ten-weight on it. He slowly put the copper scraps he had just bought on the other side of the scale. Arki whispered to someone: “watch this.”
Ramin finished placing all of Arki’s scraps, but the scales did not balance. Ramin’s jaw dropped.
“What are you waiting for?” Gavri demanded. “I asked for ten ingots.”
“That, that should have been ten ingots. I don’t understand.”
“Do you or do you not have ten ingots worth of copper?”
“Yes, yes, of course. I have some more copper here.” Ramin grabbed additional copper he had in store and added it to the scale until it balanced. Sweat poured freely down Ramin’s face, drenching his robe. Gavri unloaded the copper from the scale, put it in his own sack and counted out six silvers to Ramin’s wet hand.
Ramin looked as if he would burst into tears. The crowd sensed he had lost somehow, but weren’t sure of what had happened. Ramin put his hand on his ten-weight.
“Wait,” Arki said. “I want to test something. Here is my old, trusty ten-weight.” Arki lifted his ten-weight into the air for the crowd to see. It was smoothed to a light grey from years of use. “Most of you have known this ten-weight and know it to be true. Let’s see how it fares against Ramin’s new one.”
Arki spryly dropped his ten-weight onto the other side of the scale. Ramin looked on in horror, his hand still on his own weight.
“Take your hand off the weight, Ramin,” Gavri growled.
“There must be some misunderstanding. I’m just going to pack everything away.”
The crowd hissed.
“If you don’t let us see your weight, no one will ever do business with you again,” Gavri said. The crowd nodded at Gavri’s words.
With tears streaming down his face Ramin lifted his hand off the weight. A gasp of shock went through the crowd as Ramin’s weight sunk.
“Cheat,” Gavri yelled. “Cheat,” shouted the crowed.
The crowd now filled the entire metals enclave. The cry went out of “Ramin is a cheat! Ramin is a cheat!”
“Kill him!” someone yelled.
“Cut off his hands!” another shouted.
“No!” Gavri’s strong voice quelled the crowd. “The law is clear. This is an abomination. No one amongst the tribes will trust Ramin. But all he needs to do is give back the amount he deceived with the false weight. And the only one I think it was used on was Arki. But Arki, somehow you knew.”
The crowd quieted and watched to see what Arki would say.
“As soon as I felt his weight I knew it was too heavy. About a tenth. Right, Ramin?”
Ramin had sat down on his stool and nodded mutely.
“But I have a special scale. And let this be a warning to any other swindlers out there. I can adjust my scale to lower the weight further whenever the weight is not true. My father used this scale with those Egyptian scoundrels who were always cheating. I adjusted it so that it gave me a fifth in my favor. I would yet deceive the deceiver.”
Ramin contemplated Arki’s words, finally understanding why he had less copper than he thought.
“Then it was just a matter of waiting for him to do another ten-weight deal,” Arki continued. “God sent Gavri moments later with just such an order.”
“I’m ruined,” Ramin sobbed. “Who will buy all my stock? How will I work? What will I do? This is all I know.”
“You brought this upon yourself,” Gavri said. “This should be a lesson and a warning for anyone who thinks he can outsmart his brother. I’m sure you will survive Ramin. I’m actually looking for an apprentice who is familiar with metals. If you don’t mind hard work…”
Ramin looked up at Gavri. He gestured at his stores of metals. “Will you give me a fair price for my metals?”
“Yes. But I’ll use Arki’s weights.”
* * * * * *
35 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. 36 Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Sefer Hachninuch: Commandments 258, 259.
Riman: from Rima or Ramai, to deceived, deceiver.
Arki: From Biblical character Hushai the Arki (II Samuel 15:32). Undercover agent for King David. Deceived Absalom during his rebellion against David and responsible for saving the kingship. Talmud uses him as example of permitted deception.
Gavri: Blacksmith from previous story.
Metals: Inspiration from great exhibit at Israel Museum on Biblical Metallurgy.