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Can a dishonest merchant imperil an entire nation? Parshat Kedoshim

There is a frightening statement from the classic commentator, Rashi, on the verse:

לֹא־תַעֲשׂ֥וּ עָ֖וֶל בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֑ט בַּמִּדָּ֕ה בַּמִּשְׁקָ֖ל וּבַמְּשׂוּרָֽה׃ 

“Do not miscarry justice. Don’t falsify measurements, weights, or liquid weights.”(Vayikra 19:35)

Rashi explains that the merchant takes on the status of a judge when he weighs his merchandise. Should he decide to be dishonest, the consequences are far reaching:

גוֹרֵם לַחֲמִשָּׁה דְבָרִים הָאֲמוּרִים בַּדַּיָּן — מְטַמֵּא אֶת הָאָרֶץ, וּמְחַלֵּל אֶת הַשֵּׁם, וּמְסַלֵּק אֶת הַשְּׁכִינָה, וּמַפִּיל אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּחֶרֶב, וּמַגְלֶה אוֹתָם מֵאַרְצָם (ספרא): “(His action) results in five repercussions associated with perverting justice—bringing impurity to the land, desecrating God’s name, chasing away the Shechina (God’s presence), causing Jewish casualties on the battlefield, and exile from the land.” (ספרא קדושים, פרק ח:ה׳).

Perhaps this explains why the  Parsha begins with a most unusual request. קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י הֹ’ אֱלֹקְיכֶֽם׃ “Be holy because I, the Lord your God is holy.” (Vayikra 19:1) It seems that “Holiness” isn’t just a personal choice on how to lead your own life. Rather, an individual’s holiness can affect the entire Jewish People. 

The divine relationship between the courtroom and the battlefield

Why should a miscarriage of justice (whether by a merchant or a judge) have consequences on the battlefield? This subject was covered by  Midrash Tanchuma on Parshat Shoftim :

כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה וְגוֹ’. מַה כְּתִיב לְמַעְלָה מִן הָעִנְיָן, וְדָרְשׁוּ הַשּׁוֹפְטִים הֵיטֵב. מִשֶּׁיֵּעָשׂוּ הַשּׁוֹפְטִים דִּין, צְּאוּ לַמִּלְחָמָה וְאַתֶּם נוֹצְחִין

“When you go out to war” (Deuteronomy 20:1): ‘What is written [in the Torah] right before that? ‘”And the judges shall make a thorough investigation” (Deuteronomy 19:18). [The juxtaposition of these words signify that] when the judges execute (true) judgment, you [can] go out to war and you will be victorious.” [15:1]

The Midrash is turning reality on it’s head

It seems that the battlefield is the ultimate courtroom.  It’s where God scrutinizes the morality of our judges and our merchants. Anyone hearing  casualty reports on soldiers fighting for Israel is likely to analyze which side had better training, better weaponry, better generals etc. However, once again, the Midrash is reminding us that God runs the world. Things are not as they appear. Not in our personal life and certainly not in the fate of the Jewish People.

Therefore, when Jewish generals gathered to plan military strategy, their plan of attack should have been completely different than any other army.  How do we defeat graft, bribery and corruption in the courtroom and in commerce. 

Because each individual’s achievement of holiness affects others around us – for bad and for the good.

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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