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Vayikra/Leviticus 19:35 You shall not do iniquity in justice: in length, in weight or in volume
Most of the Hebrew words in this verse need some explanation to allow us to see the scope of the command being given. The verb, - a 2mp Qal prefix form from the root - has two common meanings: to do or to make. Is iniquity something that we simply do, or is it manufactured or created by our actions? Put another way, is iniquity something that exists only temporarily while we are doing it, or do we make something that endures beyond the immediate time of our actions when we act in an incorrect way? The word , here translated iniquity, comes from a root ; meaning "to deal unrighteously, unjustly" in Hebrew, in Arabic it has the sense of turning aside or declining (Davidson).Targum Onkelos translates this using the adverb 'falsely': "Do not deal falsely in judgement". When iniquity is done, someone is denied justice and there is a turning away from righteousness. - in length - comes from the root , to measure; a masoretic note means that the word appears three times in the Hebrew Scriptures: here, Joshua 3:4 "a distance of two thousand cubits in measure" and 2 Chronicles 3:3 where the measurements for the length of the temple foundations are given. This, then, is a large scale land measurement. - in weight - can also mean "in the act of weighing" and is derived from the verb - to weigh, weigh out - which also produces , the Israeli currency that was originally a weight of silver or other precious metal. Anything weighed in shekels therefore had to be of manageable size. Finally, is a liquid measure of volume, roughly equivalent in modern-day terms to two or three teaspoonfuls, a small scale unit of measure. Obviously, this judgement applies to all categories of measurement, from the largest to the smallest and in all types of units.
Rashi points out that the first part of the verse, "You shall not do wrong in justice" is exactly the same wording as the admonition given to judges twenty verses earlier when they are told, "you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbour fairly" (v. 15, NASB). Why, Rashi wants to know, is the phrase repeated here and connected with units of measure, terms more associated with trade and the marketplace than with the legal profession. The conclusion he reaches is that HaShem regards the merchant and the judge in the same light because they are each performing judgement or arbitration in their different spheres. A businessman measuring cloth, weighing out spices or buying and selling parcels of land is no less required to be scrupulously honest and show no favour to man than a judge when hearing a case in court. Just as a judge who perverts justice is called a wrong-doer, hateful, repulsive, banned and an abomination (D'varim 7:26, 26:16) so these terms should apply to a dishonest merchant. In the same way, Rashi observes, "he causes the five effects that are stated with regard to a judge: he contaminates the Land, and profanes the name of G-d; he causes G-d's presence to depart, and Israel to fall by the sword; he causes Israel to be exiled from their land (Vayikra 20:3, 26:30,33). A corrupt judge and a dishonest business person are responsible for the same devastating destruction."
Rabbi Samson RaphaelHirsch sees the issue on an even wider, societal scale. "It is the justice of these things on whose correctness the honesty of human intercourse depends." Hirsch is concerned about the whole fabric of society, realising that theft and deceit among everyday commercial transactions are a reflection of the morality of everyday people and the expression of the values that society as a whole holds and enforces; it is a witness of who we are both as a people and as G-d's people. "This places the responsibility for and guard of, the honesty and legality of things in general in the conscience of every single person. Everyone is placed in charge of it, over it and any misuse of this power is just as great a wrong as a misuse of the legal power of a judge." It is not just that it is simple theft or robbery, which need not come at the end of a chapter concerned about holy living, but that the morality of having dishonest measures completely undermines the holiness of both the individuals and a whole society which tolerates such behaviour. A single act of dishonesty is easily dealt with; a society where dishonesty is endemic cannot be a witness to the holiness of G-d.
Peter, writing to the believers in the Diaspora, tells them, "As people who obey G-d, do not let yourselves be shaped by the evil desires you used to have when you were still ignorant. On the contrary, following the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in your entire way of life" (1 Peter 1:14-15, CJB). Our lives, as followers of Messiah Yeshua, are to be a living witness to G-d's character: honesty, integrity and holiness. Peter continues: "Keep your behaviour excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify G-d in the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:12, NASB). If we behave in the same way as the people around us, allowing our morals and standards to be like theirs, then we too deserve the punishment that comes because of sin. Only when we are distinct in our behaviour, honest and upright in all our dealings, will the world notice that we are different. Even though they resent our behaviour, sensing that our honesty judges their dishonesty, yet they will have to acknowledge at the judgement that we were a witness to them and glorify G-d. Each of us, individually, wears the name of G-d on our sleeve and bears the reputation of the whole body of Messiah in our hands. We should live and act worthily of both.
Further Study: Amos 8:4-10; 1 John 3:1-3
Application: It is the little things that let most of us down; careless words or moments when we were not on guard. Why not ask G-d to help you with your "little things" today and keep you on your toes? When the small things are right, they you will have confidence to tackle the larger things.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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