I’m eating carbs and gaining weight during this pandemic like a sumo wrestler bulking up for the Olympics. Thank goodness people only see me from the chest up on zoom! It is an increasingly unpleasant experience for a lot of us to stand naked in the bathroom staring out over our stomachs and down past our toes to read the numbers. Sometimes we wish they did, but the truth is, scales don’t lie. That being said, while scales don’t lie, people do.
When my brother was studying to become a chef at the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie a wholesale butcher who sold to some of New York’s best restaurants guest lectured on buying beef. The butcher began his talk by holding up a seven-pound meat hook. "You see this meat hook?" he barked, "these extra seven pounds per sale put three kids through college."
My brother and I laughed for years about that story because it reminded us of our father and uncle who were in the scrap metal business. Almost daily some customer would try to cheat them by sitting in his truck while it was weighed in. The idea was to get his bodyweight included in the load, then get out of the truck and come into the office to watch when it was weighed empty; trying to get paid for an extra two hundred pounds or more of scrap metal.
This ploy was easily countered, however, by my father's deliberate hanging of the current playmate centerfold right next to the scale dial, thus enabling him to shave off a couple hundred pounds while the driver's eyes were cleverly diverted.
I think most of us, some of the time, don’t want to live with what the scale really says. We all want a little more or a little less than we deserve. We all want to tip things in our favor. But lest we think this charge-em-for-the-meat-hook, or stay- on-the-truck skullduggery is a new problem, remember that this week’s parasha, written some three thousand years ago, warns against precisely the same thing.
"You must have completely honest weights and completely honest measures if you are to endure long on the soil that Adonai your God is giving you," we are warned. "For everyone who does those things, everyone who deals dishonestly, is abhorrent to Adonai your God."
Dishonest weights and measures in the market place was a serious offense. It meant a breakdown of trust in the community, a never ending cycle of anger, deception and revenge; a cheat-or-be-cheated world.
But as rampant and harmful as dishonest scales in the market place might have been and continue to be, there is another kind of scale, and another kind of deception that is worse. Rabbinic legend has it that there is a scale in heaven for each of us. A scale on which our deeds both good and bad are weighed. Soon we will enter into the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe when we are supposed to take an unflinching look at that scale.
Last year's promises came so easily to our lips and we are so quick to weigh others' deeds harshly. This month of Elul just before the High Holy Days, including this Torah portion this week, is the time to be honest with ourselves. What we have accomplished? Where did we fail? Did we love and give and care and hope, or did we smother with petty jealousy and anger? Did we pretend to care about things bright and holy while secretly holding them in contempt? Did we lie? Did we turn away from the suffering in the world or did we reach out to make a difference? What did we do behind closed doors; in the bedroom, in the board room? What did we say to wound a loved one's heart?
We all know that old rabbinic legend is just that--a legend--a way to teach children about actions and consequences. We are not children and hopefully that means we will examine our lives without needing a scary scale metaphor to motivate us; considering the weight of our deeds this past year without the slightest trick or gimmick.
The Chassidic rabbi Elimelech said “When I die and stand in the court of justice, they will ask me if I had been as just as I should have. I will answer no.
Then they will ask me if I had been as charitable as I should have. I will answer no. Did I study as much as I should have? Again, I will answer no. Did I pray as much as I should have? And this time, too, I will have to give the same answer.
Then the Supreme Judge will smile and say: 'Elimelech, you spoke the truth. For this you shall enter heaven.'"
As the High Holy Days approach, let’s strip ourselves bare, stare down at the numbers and ask ourselves how well we’ve measured up this past year--for real.
Love and Shabbat Shalom,