Parshat Ki Teitzei

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.. Even if the television or other equipment is broken and currently unable to receive a signal, it is regarded as capable of being repaired so it can receive a signal and you must hold a licence for it. – Television Licensing laws, Ireland

“You shall not keep in your house two different ephah measures, one large and one small …  [Rather,] you shall have a full and honest weight, [and] a full and honest ephah measure …” – Deuteronomy 25:14

A few years ago we had a lively debate on our doorstep with the TV license inspector from An Post who wanted us to pay the annual license fee. We do not, however, use a television and have never held a license, but we do have a DVD player/monitor unit for the kids to watch DVDs and for family videos. When the inspector turned up we showed him it was fixed to the wall in a room with no antenna and could not be used for TV as there was no signal. Not good enough. He explained to us that a TV in the home needs a license, full stop, even if it were a non-functioning or even a broken unit. Apparently there are countless homes inspected which have lovely wide-screen TV sets sitting in the living room, which the inspector is told is broken and only used for holding up those lovely photos of  Granny and the goldfish bowl. The law therefore states very clearly: Even if the television or other equipment is broken and currently unable to receive a signal, it is regarded as capable of being repaired so it can receive a signal and you must hold a licence for it.

In the end, to avoid licensing issues, we had the TV tuner professionally removed from the unit so it could not physically receive a television signal. The inspector was still not happy, but agreed it no longer needed a license.

This idea that although broken, your TV still needs a license because you may at some point fix and use it is similar to a concept we find in this week’s Parsha. When talking about honesty in business, the Torah bans false weights and measures not only in the workplace but even in one’s own home. Once the weights (used with a pair of scales) have been worn down with use, they cannot be taken home and even used as bookends, or to hold the door open: They must be discarded, lest they be used in error at some later time. G-d places such a strong emphasis on honesty, whether at home and at the workplacev that the reward stated in the Torah for such honesty is “that your days will be prolonged on the land …”

Our Sages (Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31a) discuss what the very first question is that we are asked when, after 120 years, we finally reach our eternal Day of Judgement. We are not asked how successful and powerful we were, nor how many possessions we had or what model car we drove. We are asked, “Were you honest in your business dealings?”

The word the Torah uses for dishonest business trading is “to’evah” – an abomination, it is something G-d cannot abide. Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah explains that G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt for this purpose – to be an honest and ethical people – a “light unto the nations.”

Immediately following this text about weights and measures in the Parsha is the paragraph about the Nation of Amalek: Says the Torah, “Remember the nation of Amalek, how they attacked you when you left Egypt.” What is the connection between these two sections?

The juxtaposition of these two sections is explained by our Sages to mean that one is a result of the other. Dishonesty in our dealings with others can lead, G-d forbid – to terrible tragedy, and even attacks from Amalek.

So, as we approach Rosh Hashana let us take another look at the business practices which might not be strictly to the letter of Torah law. Is our computer software licensed or “borrowed,” is our music collection paid for or copied, do we always pay VAT or do we sometimes ask to pay cash? Whether in the office, the marketplace or the home, we must always be people of honesty and integrity, a good example to those around us.  Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Zalman Lent

 

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