Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (1848-1932), the wise and saintly Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, was visiting a disciple’s home on Shabbat. He happened to see one of the children doing something to desecrate Shabbat, so he instinctively gave a shout, “Oy, it’s Shabbat!”

The boy’s father pushed back, “Hey! He's only a child, go easy on him! He doesn’t yet know the value of Shabbat and its laws.”

A little while later, the same child took an expensive crystal piece, a family heirloom, from the china closet. This time, the father jumped up, and yelled, “Careful, don’t touch that! That’s not a toy!”

The Rav turned to the father and asked, “Why are you yelling? Is he not just a child?”

With a twinkle in his eye, he concluded, “It’s all about what’s important to you: Shabbat or a dish.”

So, let me ask you, what are your values?

Just Weights

Our parshah contains a lot of mitzvot, 74 to be exact (the most of any parshah in the Torah). Among them is a law about maintaining honest weights. In ancient times, before the invention of digital scales, the way a typical shopkeeper would weigh a pound of cheese, for example, would be to place a standard one-pound stone on one side of a scale. He would then place a hunk (or two) of cheese on the other side, adding or subtracting until the scale hung evenly balanced.

For this system to work fairly, the standard measuring stones needed to be perfectly accurate. And so, the Torah warns:

You shall not keep in your pouch two different weights, one large and one small.1

If you thought this law was some sort of minor detail with little consequence, the Torah quickly dispels that notion:

For whoever does these things, whoever perpetrates such injustice, is an abomination to the L‑rd, your G‑d.2

Apparently, messing around with weighing stones is a very big deal.

But why? I can understand that it’s dishonest, but there are far worse things enumerated in the Torah that don’t earn the moniker of “abomination.” What’s with all the drama?

Another question: The very next thing we read in the Torah is the story of Amalek, the perennial thorn in our ancestors’ side, who attacked them in the desert just as they left Sinai. The parshah concludes with the mitzvah to never forget Amalek’s crimes.

What’s the significance of this juxtaposition? What does the Torah want to tell us by placing this shop-keeping crime alongside a historically evil bad guy like Amalek?

Amalek the Bad Guy

Let’s take a look under the hood at Amalek to get a better picture.

The Israelites faced many foes throughout their sojourn in the desert, and as time has marched on, the list of enemies just keeps on growing. But Amalek still holds a special place on our enemy list.


Let’s put Amalek’s actions into context. The Israelites had just been freed from Egypt with mind-boggling miracles. The sea then split for them, impressing the entire world. Thereafter, they stood at Sinai, a landmark event during which the entire world came to a standstill.

They were on a ridiculous hot streak. No one would dare mess with them.

But then came Amalek. They said, “Eh! You think they’re so untouchable? Not so fast! We’ll show the world that these guys aren’t as hot as they think.” So they attacked, and were it not for some miraculous stunts, the story would’ve ended pretty badly.

In other words, Amalek is the prototype of cooling convictions, the sour guy in the room who’s always deflating any sense of excitement, reverence, or commitment. He’s the party pooper who says, “Eh, you don’t really mean it. Is eating non-kosher food really so bad? Are you going to be struck by lightning if you turn on the TV on Shabbat? Will your boss really fire you if you shave off a couple dollars for yourself while doing the bookkeeping? Come one, nothing’s untouchable or sacred. Just get your feet wet, try it on for size, and you’ll see that the lighting won’t come.”

And that’s why we’re so wary of him. He really is a bad guy unlike any other.3

Calibrate Your Values

So how do you ensure you don’t end up making such pernicious calculations? How do you avoid being in Amalek’s crosshairs?

Remember: the mitzvah just prior to Amalek in the Torah is maintaining just weights.

You know why?

Because the surest way of keeping your commitment going, of not flaming out as a lackluster non-believer, is as uncomplicated as it is difficult: having the right values. Giving proper “weight” to the matters that deserve that weight, and not, G‑d forbid, shaving off weight from the important values and adding it to the more trivial ones.

It’s really very simple—whatever you truly value, whatever you really care about, that’s where you’ll end up investing your time, money, and belief. Everything else will eventually get thrown under the bus.

Have you ever met someone who cries poverty all the time, yet somehow, has money to go to the movies, eat out, or buy the latest smartphone every year? What happened? Did they all of a sudden rob a bank? Did they find buried treasure in their backyard?

The answer is simple. It’s all about values. Some people deeply value the experience of dining out with a friend, or simply cannot imagine life without the best phone, so they find the money for it.

What you care about, you invest in. It may sound too simple to be true, but that’s how it works.

So, if you’re finding yourself in an Amalek-like zone, doubting whether or not it’s really worth your time to go to shul every week (or every day!), to invest so much money in Jewish education, or be nice to every person on your block, then it’s time to haul out your measuring stones and see if they’re “honest.”

Remind yourself of what truly matters, which things in life contain real value and which matters are more transient. Calibrate your scale and scrutinize whether you may have, over the years, placed a little too much weight on something undeserving.

Ask yourself: Do I value Shabbat or the crystal dish?

Keep your weights honest, and that lackluster Amalek voice nipping at your commitments will automatically dissipate.4