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Go Over Your Check with the Waiter. It’s A Mitzvah!

Just a few weeks ago we were gathered around a festive table with our family and friends. Our purpose was to retell the events surrounding our exodus from Egypt. At the outset of the Seder right after the מה נשתנה, the Four Questions, we read “…and the more one talks about the exodus from Egypt, the more praiseworthy.” Immediately, the Haggadah recounts the story of five great rabbis having a Seder together in Bnai Brak, a city in Israel. They were discussing the exodus from Egypt all night until close to sunrise. What did they have so much to talk about?

One clue is found from this week’s Torah reading. In פרשת קדושים, 19:35-36 the Torah states, “You shall not commit a perversion of justice in measures of length, weight, or volume. You must have correct scales and weights… I am Hashem your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” What is the connection between honest business practices and the exodus from Egypt?

In the Laws of Thievery, the Rambam states that when you do business with any person, it is prohibited to miscalculate the amount. Together with the other party, you must add up the bill exactly. You must go over the check with the cashier.

Strangely, the Rambam concludes this section of the law with a philosophic notion. Quoting the Talmud he states, “Harder is the punishment for false measures than is the punishment for prohibited sexual violations. This one is between man and God but this one is between man and man. All who deny the command of honest measures deny the exodus from Egypt which is the beginning of the commands. Anyone who accepts honest measures admits to the exodus from Egypt, that it is the cause of all the commands.” Again, our question recurs. What is the connection between fair weights and measures and the exodus from Egypt?

In a practical way the Talmud explains that if a person sincerely repents for prohibited sexual offenses, forgiveness is granted. But for a person to do teshuvah for using false measures, he must track down every single person he cheated and make financial restitution. The Talmud views that as an impossible task. Such a person, then, can never have complete atonement.

But there is a philosophical and ethical idea as well. The exodus from Egypt is predicated on the concept that God not only created the universe, but that He relates to man. As King David exclaimed, “What is man that you are mindful of him!” But God’s watchfulness is over mankind. Our entire release from Egypt was only possible through His intervention. As you know, Moses is not mentioned anywhere in the Haggadah.

When a person cheats, at that moment, he is in denial of a fundamental philosophic principle. He is denying the idea that the providence of God extends to man. That idea is a complete refutation of the exodus from Egypt. Cheating is not only unethical but it subverts the entire purpose of the exodus from Egypt. That event is to teach mankind the idea that man’s actions are seen and responded to by the same Creator of the universe. In taking the Jewish people out of Egypt, He established a nation that is to model this concept in every aspect of life. The same God that took us out of Egypt is aware of my individual behavior as well. This is a very powerful idea. It should give us pause as to how we live. It should bring about a totally different way of treating people, especially in situations where taking advantage of another person is so easy to do.

The upshot is that the exodus from Egypt pervades everything we do as Jews. There are countless other mitzvot that stem from the Exodus as the Rambam says “it is the cause of all the commands.” These two commands tied to fair weights and measures, the negative not to use false scales and the positive to use true measures, encompasses our justice system, our ethical system and our philosophic system. Only when all three are aligned do we merit the full relationship with God we are designed to have.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kaplan