Friday, August 28, 2009

Ki Tetze 5769: One Measure in the House

In a portion full of laws to live by from marriage and divorce to military engagements, I've always thought about one, and yet never explored it. Oddly enough, it's one I think about every day.

13. You shall not have in your bag different weights, a large and a small. 14. You shall not have in your house different measures, a large and a small. 15. But you shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shall you have; that your days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord your God gives you.[Deuteronomy 25]

Measurements are interesting things. I was thinking about this a lot in the last few weeks as I measured walls and bookcases and couches for my and Sweetie's move. Sometimes measurements present problems because we do not measure in the same units. On my several trips to IKEA, whose furniture is made using Metric measurements, there are innumerable fractions when converted to inches. Then there is the confusion of which measurement system you are using at any time. Sometimes no one tells you the units. Yet there is also the differences between your measuring devices. Cheap rulers and measuring devices will not be completely accurate as to how long one inch or ten centimeters are. Put two rulers next to each other and the larger the space the greater the inaccuracy.
Of course this can be abused, and has been for millennia, hence the prohibitions above. One could have a slightly bigger weight and smaller one, which could be used to your advantage to short customers of product, or to over charge them for the amount they really wanted by messing with the measurements. I might for example have a 9 kg and a 11Kg weight in my bag instead of a 10 kg weight. If I charge by the pound and use my weight to measure I get more money for less product using the 9kg weight. if the seller forgot his weight and I use 11kg weight I get more product for a cheaper price. This is of course deception of the customer, and it is the unfairness the Torah is prohibiting.
To solve such issues, there are such things as standards, such as a weight that everyone agrees on. 1Kg, or 1Lb had a standard weight and all other weights are measured off of this one weight. In the days of balance scales, this was usually enough. In the days of electronic scales this presents problems as the electronics need to be carefully tuned to the right measurements.
The rabbis of the Talmud were very careful with measurements, seeing it as a serious offense to cheat someone else. They knew it happened around them, but came down hard on offenders. Measurements might even change due to environmental conditions of product so they took into account those conditions as well, such as a gourd swelling in humid conditions and shrinking in dry conditions. [B.B. 89b] While they agree on proper measurements, pages of pages of debate in the tractate Baba Batra continue on how and when to use standards.
When we talk of standards, in one sense Torah itself is a standard, one set of rules which a whole community agrees to. Yet the open nature of Torah might cause a commonality in rules, but often how the details work out differ. tradition and differing Rabbinic opinion about a certain rule change and vary the standard, not making it much of a standard sometimes. the problem is any use of a standard will change it. Even the most accurate standard weight must be guarded carefully, for the slightest scratch takes it away from perfection. Real use of any weight requires calibration to prove that such variation are happening to acceptable levels.
As much as what I do for a living has to do with measurements, I instead keep thinking about that social, moral or personal standards. Lately, it really bothers me. Relationship between any two people meas there is a standard for each person, a weight or measure that slightly, though not significantly different. Yet those minor differences can be the cause of huge conflicts. We are told to have one measure in the house, does that apply for one social standard? How do we determine a social standard? Does one side give up everything and agree to another? When talking about two physical weights, that might be true. Yet for the human condition that may not be as true. There is a need for this thing called compromise. Compromise, however often seems to be some form of double speak for "you'll do it my way." I most often fall for this and in a potential conflict will acquiesce to the other party, mostly to avoid the conflict. To keep one measure in the house, to have Shalom Habayit seems to be more than that though. To constantly give up things seems one sided and might cause resentments. Both have to give and take, yet I have no idea how this happens. Some sage advice I got recently was it's all trial and error. But error means failure and that is not something I for one like to do.
There is another standard I've been thinking about lately -- the standards one puts on one self. As it is the month of Elul and we begin to take stock of our lives, I've begun to look at how I measure up to my standard of my self. I am not happy about that comparison since I fall so short. Some would say that I have too high standards. Yet as with any measurement, how are they measuring that other than their own standards? If so, is that a good thing? I had a conversation recently which brings this into perspective. A work colleague expressed the concern if one person puts strong restrictions on their own personal behavior, does that force the group around them into the same behavior? And if that is true, should one not set impossibly high standards for others by setting those standards for oneself? Does one person holding themselves to a high standard actually force others into that standard? I don't know what the answer to that is, except to say it depends on what the others in the group believe. Last week at a bar mitzvah I saw this in action. It was a combined service of our minyan and a bar mitzvah. While it was not traditional to stand at certain parts of the service for a bar mitzvah, it was traditional to stand at certain points for our minyan, so a handful of people would stand a those parts and everyone else would stay seated. Some who would normally stand went with the majority sitting, or maybe with he rabbi's signal to stand or sit. Some visitors from other congregations were used to sitting at these parts stayed seated. It really depended on the individual and their view of the situation. What was the right behavior I wondered, while I for one stood in a sea of seated people.
I've seen many of these questions in practical situations, yet I have no answers to any of them. As I contend that Jews are the people of the question, maybe that is as it should be. I've had standards for this blog for quite a while and lately I haven't hit those standards either, and certainly not in this entry. SO I contemplate one more question: should Shlomo's Drash see 5770? I sit here and wonder what that answers will be to all those questions.

Friday, August 07, 2009

On the road for two weeks

For the next two weeks I'm going to have a short hiatus due to the events described in last weeks piece. There a lot of things to do and right now I need to concentrate on them and not biblical commentary. I'll be back for Ki tzeitzei.