We learn in the Torah portion of Kedoshim:1 “Do not falsify measurements, whether in length, weight or volume. You must have an honest balance, honest weights, an honest dry measure, and an honest liquid measure.”

The Gemara explains2 that although in any case one is guilty of theft when one sells something weighed with a false measure, the Torah states this command explicitly. This is to teach us that the prohibition is not only against using false measures, but against even the making of a false measure, though it is never used.

Thus the Rambam rules:3 “Whoever retains in his house … a false measure … transgresses a prohibitory command.” So too with regard to the positive command, the Rambam states:4 “It is a positive command to see to it that one’s scales are extremely well-balanced, and to ensure that they are so at the time of manufacture.”

Clearly, then, the violation of the prohibition does not begin when a person uses false measurements to defraud someone; it begins from the very moment the false weights are made and kept in the person’s house.

With regard to all other aspects of thievery, the transgression only begins at the moment of theft. Why does the law against false measurements differ from all other laws of theft; why does a person transgress just by making or having an object that may eventually be used dishonestly?

In all other instances, when a person steals from another there is only a single intent: to seize something that belongs to the other. Here, however, two things are happening at the same time. On the one hand, the sinner is “weighing and measuring” — he is expressing an intention of dealing honestly with his fellow man. Yet he is using a false measure — the very same instrument that he uses to engender trust!

The Torah therefore prohibits even the making and keeping of such a measure, though it is not used for fraud. For the point of the “laws of measurements” is not so much that of seeing to it that one does not cheat others — that is simple theft and is already prohibited. Rather, it is to negate such deceitful dispositions and tendencies within the person himself.5

In light of the above, the prohibition against false measures can also be understood in a more spiritual sense:

The Jewish people are, as Scripture tells us, “children to the L-rd your G‑d,”6 and “part of Him.”7 How is it then possible for the evil inclination to lead a Jew astray? The answer lies in the “sin of measures”:

The Gemara informs us8 that the evil inclination does not appear to a Jew and try to get him to commit a harsh sin right away, for it knows full well that the Jew will not listen. Rather, “today it tells him, ‘do this [very mild sin],’ on the morrow it says to him, ‘do this [harsher sin],’ until eventually it says to him….”

In other words, the evil inclination tries to minimize the person’s “measure.” It initially agrees, as it were, that the Jew must in general live according to a “measure” — the parameters of the Jewish Code of Law. It tries to convince the person, however, that it does not matter if the “measure” is somewhat lacking.

Moreover, it may even agree that the person should have “a full, honest weight and a full, honest measure.”9 But it whispers that he should keep two different measures, one large and one small.10

With regard to purely spiritual matters, the evil inclination may agree that the “measure” must be in accordance with Jewish law. With regard to more mundane matters, however, it says the Jew must accommodate himself to the standards and practices of the non-Jewish world.

The Torah therefore teaches us that we must employ the same “complete and honest” measure with regard to all aspects of our lives.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVII, pp. 149-156.