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Torah Attitude: Parashas Zachor: Honesty is the protective policy
The Torah commands us to remember to blot out the memory of Amalek. The attack by Amalek was totally unprovoked. A deeper meaning of this commandment is that dishonesty in our financial affairs allows our enemies to attack us. We sometimes forget that we are being carried on our “Father’s” shoulders. Gossip also brings harsh consequences. Entrance may be denied to Heaven even for unintentional theft. We should always try to be accurate in our financial dealings.
The Torah commands us: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came forth out of Egypt … you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the sky; you shall not forget” (Devarim 25:17-19). On the Shabbos before Purim, we read this portion of the Torah to remind us of our obligations regarding Amalek.
A few weeks ago, in Parashas Beshalach (Shemos 17:8), we read that Amalek were a people who viciously attacked the Jewish people when they arrived at Refidim for no reason other than to wage a war against G’d. This attack was totally unprovoked. The Jewish people did not wander near the land of Amalek. Nor did the Jewish people make any threats or do anything to cause Amalek to attack. Our Sages teach us that the reason Amalek attacked was that they wanted to show the rest of the world that G’d could be defeated in battle by defeating the Jewish people, the nation chosen by G’d to represent Him.
On a basic level, the Ramban teaches us that the commandment regarding Amalek consists of three parts: (1) never to forget what Amalek did to the Jewish people, (2) to erase the existence of Amalek from the world, and (3) to relate to our children the importance of not forgetting and erasing the existence of Amalek.
The deeper meaning
On a deeper level, Rashi quotes a Midrash that teaches an additional approach to the commandments regarding Amalek. If we look at the context in which the commandment appears in the Torah, we learn a profound lesson we can apply in our daily financial affairs.
Immediately before the commandment regarding Amalek, the Torah states: “You shall not have in your bag diverse weights, a great and a small. You shall not have in your house diverse measures, a great and a small. A perfect and just weight shall you have; a perfect and a just measure shall you have; that your days may be long in the land which G’d gives you. For all who do such things, [even] all who do unrighteously, are an abomination to G’d” (Devarim 25:13-16).
The reference to weights and measures in the Torah is a warning to be honest in our financial affairs. Rashi teaches us that the connection between these two commandments is that if the Jewish people are not honest in our financial affairs, then G’d will allow our enemies, the Amaleks of the world, to attack us. The deeper meaning of the commandment regarding Amalek is to elevate us to be honest in our financial affairs, failing which we are open to attack by our enemies.
One may ask, if dishonesty is the cause for which G’d allows Amalek to attack, why did Amalek attack the Jewish people in the desert. The Jewish people were not involved in any business affairs at that time. However, by closer examination, we find the answer.
Immediately before the attack of Amalek, the Torah states: “Because the children of Israel quarreled, and because they tested G’d, saying, ‘Is G’d among us, or not?’ Then Amalek came and fought with Israel in Refidim” (Shemos 17:7-8). Many times, we also fail to examine our own behaviour before blaming G’d for the consequences of our errors. We ask questions such as: How could G’d do this to me as a person, or to us as a nation; Is G’d really there with us? Rather we ought to ask: why did G’d do this to me, why did He let this happen to us?
The father’s shoulders
Rashi quotes the Midrash that compares this to a father who carries his son on his shoulders from place to place. Every so often the son requests his father to pick up various things from their path and hand them to the son. The father complies with each of his son’s requests. After the father and son have traveled some distance, and the father has picked up many things for his son, they encounter someone. The son asks him “have you seen my father”. Upon hearing this, the father drops the son from his shoulders. The son must now fend for himself. A dog chases after the son and bites him. Of course, the son goes running after his father, begging to return to his father’s shoulders. This analogy reminds us of the saying: “There are no atheists in a foxhole.”
Blessings from G’d
In the same way, when someone is not honest in his dealings, he is really asking, “Is G’d among us?” The one who realizes that what we make and earn is all a blessing from G’d understands that dishonesty will not enlarge his earnings. G’d can and will provide for him. G’d does not need or want his dishonesty. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude makes it necessary for G’d to make us suffer painful experiences to remind us of His existence and help us appreciate everything that G’d provides us in the good times. Amalek, or his likes, acts as the dog to remind us on whose shoulders we are riding.
We find another transgression that brings about painful suffering. The Torah commands us to remember six events. One is the attack of Amalek. Another is to remember what happened to Miriam when she spoke improperly about her brother Moses. The Ramban points out that, even though Miriam was a very righteous woman, the consequences of her mistake are important for all generations to learn. Any gossip brings harsh consequences.
Our Sages tell us (Bava Basra 165a) that most people steal and all people gossip. Although many people try not to gossip, nevertheless their words may be interpreted as gossip. Stealing and gossiping are very big temptations that are difficult to avoid.
The Path of the Just (Chapter 11) explains that our Sages do not refer to regular stealing; rather they refer to situations such as dishonesty in business, and other dealings with our fellow human beings, for no matter how subtle it may be, it is still considered stealing. The smallest misrepresentation, even if made innocently, is considered theft. Although we may try to rationalize that “business is business”, the truth is that it is incumbent on us to be very careful in our financial dealings. Only then can we avoid the harsh consequences of our mistakes. The following story illustrates just how careful we should be.
No entrance to Heaven
Rav Chaim of Valozhin was walking down the corridor of his Yeshiva when a former student who had recently passed away appeared to him. The student informed him that he had obtained special permission from the Heavenly Court to visit the Rav. The student had been returning to his hometown due to his poor health and was accompanied by another student to assist him. The two students stopped at an Inn to spend the night. The next morning, when the students went to pay the bill, they found that they were short a few coins. They promised to pay the innkeeper the balance of the bill upon the return of the assistant student on his way back to the Yeshiva. The assistant student accompanied the sick student to his hometown, received the additional funds from the sick student to repay the innkeeper and headed back to the Yeshiva. When the assistant student returned to the Inn, he paid the innkeeper for his current bill, but he forgot to pay what was still owed for the previous bill. When the sick student died, he was refused entrance by the Heavenly Court because he failed to pay the innkeeper the outstanding balance. It was decreed that the sick student would have to be reborn to rectify his error. The sick student pleaded with the Heavenly Court. He pointed out that his fellow student was really the cause of the default. The Heavenly Court allowed the plea and permitted the student to visit the Rav to request him to take care of the situation, which he promptly did.
Accuracy in financial dealings
It is important to be accurate in our financial dealings. Even small amounts can make a big difference in the consequences that flow from our acts and omissions. So when we fulfill our obligation to remember Amalek every year, a deeper meaning is for us to remember to be very careful to avoid errors in our financial dealings. In this way, we avoid falling into situations where we are open for attack by our enemies, and we bring closer the day when all our enemies will recognize that G’d is one and His name is one.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network