Honest weights and measures are mandated by the Torah in this week’s Parsha. So strong is the Torah’s insistence on giving one’s customers an accurate weight and measure, that Jewish law requires that we give a bit more than the precise weight and measure.
At first glance, this requirement appears problematic. If one knows for sure that his measures are just, why should he have to lose some of his merchandise? True, there are cases where one might be tempted to give a little less than the required amount, so to compensate for that we are told to give a little more. However, the question still remains. Why does the Torah not make a similar requirement for other Mitzvot?
For example: The Torah requires that we tithe our produce, which means that, in the Land of Israel, one must give ten percent of one’s agricultural yield to the Levite. There is no requirement that dictates that we should give a little bit more, so as to ensure that we don’t give less. Why is the commandment concerning honest weights and measures different?
Perhaps, the answer to this question can be found in human psychology. The Talmud says that when one gives a gift, they give it with a “good eye.” This means that if a question arises, upon receipt of a gift, as to whether all the accessories were included, one can assume, unless there is definite evidence to the contrary, that the donor of the gift meant to make the gift a complete one. By contrast, if an object was sold and the consumer demands the accessories, we make the opposite assumption, that the seller only intended to sell the minimum he is compelled to sell, and without concrete evidence the buyer loses.
What is the reason for this distinction?
When a person is in the mode of giving, it means that they have risen above the natural tendency of a finite creature to be exclusively self-centered. It is natural for an animal — and a person whose personality is governed by his “animal soul” — to try to keep all that rightfully belongs to oneself.
The very act of giving a gift to another, is a recognition that one is capable of transcending one’s selfhood to think of others. Once one has risen to that level and expressed a part of his personality that is not driven by self-interest, it is safe to assume that when there is a doubt about the giver’s intentions, we should err on the side of his generosity, not his self-interest.
Conversely, when one is in the selling mode, despite the fact that he too is giving away his personal belongings, it is entirely motivated by self-interest. As the Talmud puts it: “One who buys and then sells for the same price, is he really a businessman?” Business, by definition, demands a profit. When there is a doubt as to the seller’s intention, we should assume that it was to come out making more profit than less.
We can now appreciate why the Torah was so strict in its insistence on honest weights and measures and the additional requirement that one must give more than the required measure.
When a person is in the sales mode — as opposed to the gift mode — it is the self-interest aspect of one’s personality that is the driving force. One must then do something to shift gears and allow for the selfless aspect of one’s personality to temper the selfish dimension. By giving a bit more than one is required, even when there is no fear of cheating, one elevates the entire selling experience from a purely selfish and mundane one into one that is also selfless and G-dly.
To be sure, one can accomplish this goal when they give some of their earnings to tzedakah. However, the giving of tzedakah occurs after the transaction was completed. At best, it can have a retroactive effect on the business dealing. The advantage of giving more than the just measure is that while one is engaged in a selfish act, it is immediately transformed into a selfless and G-dly act.
The lesson from this is that whenever we extend ourselves beyond that which is required we allow a higher layer of our personality to come to the fore.
The relationship between the state of exile in which we are situated and the state of Redemption that we eagerly anticipate, is that exile is stifling and redemption is liberating. To assist in our collective redemption, we must learn how to redeem ourselves by breaking out of the limiting aspects of our personalities. This we accomplish by always doing a little bit more than required in every desirable sphere of life. Whatever has become our norm is exile. Whatever we do to increase in the direction of goodness is redemptive.