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54 September 8 • 2011
beautiful story finds its origin
in this week's parshah, which
says, "You shall not have in
your pouch alternate weights, larger
and smaller. You shall not have in your
house alternate measures, a larger and
a smaller. You must have completely
honest weights and completely honest
measures ..." (Deuteronomy 25:13-15).
While the call for honesty is
relatively simple and direct, the
repetition and change in lan-
guage indicates the Torah's con-
cern about the issue. This story
may highlight why that is.
In the midst of a drought so
terrible that the community had
begun to say special prayers and
to fast, the rabbi of a certain
town had a vivid dream. He
dreamed that he was instructed
to invite Yankel to lead the con-
gregation in prayer. The rabbi
woke with a start and laughed to himself,
"Yankel? A good man but he is not well
educated. He wouldn't be able to lead the
congregation in prayer."
The next evening, the rabbi had the
same dream. And by the following eve-
ning, while the drought persisted, the
rabbi's dream was even clearer; a voice
said, "There will be no rain until Yankel
leads the congregation in prayer!' The
rabbi wasn't laughing any more.
At the time for the morning davening,
when everyone was ready to begin, the
rabbi rose from his seat and approached
Yankel. Just having the great rabbi so
close made Yankel shy and embarrassed.
"Please lead the congregation in our
prayers today, Yankel," said the rabbi.
Yankel said nothing. The rabbi insisted.
"But, Rabbi, I don't know how to lead the
prayers. I am not worthy, nor am I able.
Encouragingly, the rabbi told Yankel
not to worry. "Whatever you do will be
acceptable before God. Only your prayers
will bring us the rain for which we are so
desperate," said the rabbi. Yankel seemed
to shrink down even further in his seat
but then quickly stood up and ran from
the synagogue. The rabbi walked back to
his seat and sat down. The rabbi waited
and so did the congregation.
Eventually, the congregation watched
Yankel walk down the aisle of the syna-
gogue. In his hands he held a scale. You
could hear the snickers as he made his
way to the bimah where the leader of the
prayers would stand. What was this igno-
ramus doing with a scale in synagogue?!
But when Yankel reached the bimah
there was quiet. At first, Yankel seemed
unsure of what he would do next. But
then he raised the scale, offering it up
and called out in a strong
voice. "Master of the
World," he said, "I am an
unlettered man. I do not
know how to lead the con-
gregation in prayers. But
each day, I use this scale
to measure my goods. If I
have ever cheated anyone
with this scale, may I suffer
punishment. But if I have
treated people fairly and
honestly, then please send
All was quiet as Yankel finished speak-
ing to God. Soon, the room grew dark.
The rain that came down that day began
to ease the drought. The community
breathed a sigh of relief and thanked
God. But as the community prepared to
move forward with life, almost impercep-
tible corrections were made to the scales
in many of the shops in town ...
The issue of honest weights and mea-
sures is not only an ancient issue. The
weights and measures of the modern
marketplace are more complex than
Yankel's scale. But you only need read the
news to know that the issue of honesty in
the marketplace is a live issue today.
Ultimately, Yankel's story is not about
the big swindle, it is about the impor-
tance of remembering that the "small"
dishonesty that creeps into a society,
eventually (but tragically) can become
the norm. II
Steven Rubenstein is rabbi of Congregation
Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield.
• When have you acted with
integrity even when no one else
• Do you think that most people
generally act honestly in financial