Kedoshim - HONEST PLEDGES
MOST OF THE regulations that deal with honesty, integrity and fair play are included in the sidrah which was read this morning. "Just balances, just weights, a just ephah and an honest pledge shall you have; I am the Lord your God who have brought you forth out of the land of Egypt" (Levit. 19:36).
Please note that I have translated the biblical phrase hin tzedek as "an honest pledge." This is in accordance with the interpretation of the Talmud (B ab. Metzia 49a). This teaches that your yea should be just and your nay should be just; . . . that one should not say one thing with one's mouth and (think) another thing in his heart."
In Egypt no word was considered weighty, no promise binding. Pledges were made only to be broken. Someone said that the Egyptians were giants in their promises and pygmies in their performances.
When Jacob and his family came to Egypt they were given a royal welcome. They were invited to settle there and were told that they could build a free and unfettered life. Relying on that promise, the children of Israel invested their genius and toil in that land, and saved it from famine and disaster.
But when Egypt became powerful and rich, its leaders violated their hin tzedek, their pledge of good will and friendship, and sold the Israelites "down the river" by reducing them to a state of servitude.
What brought about the sudden change and complete reversal of policy? Why did they drop their hin tzedek, their word of honor which presumably, they had given in good faith? The Torah is quite explicit on this point, and expresses it in one telling phrase. Pharoah said, havah nitkhachmah lo, "Come, let us deal wisely with him" (Exod. 1:10). The word khachmah means wisdom, but nitkhachmah means to outwit, outsmart, outmaneuver. The Egyptians possessed little wisdom, but what they lacked in true wisdom, they more than made up in cunning and shrewdness. They had use for a person only as long as they needed him, and dropped him like a. hot potato after they had managed to squeeze every ounce of usefulness out of him. Havah nitkhachmah, they said. "Let us outsmart the Jews. They have served their purpose. Now we have other plans for them. We will subdue and enslave them, and make them build our cities and fortresses for us." For the simple people who asked for an explanation for this cruel betrayal, they manufactured an alibi, "And if it will come to pass that when there will happen to be a war, they will join also unto our enemies and fight against us and depart out of the land" (Ibid.).
Now it is a well known fact that at that time, Egypt was in no danger of war. Furthermore, the loyalty of the Israelites to their adopted land was fervent and undivided. But it was as good an excuse as they could find, and that was sufficient for them to break the promise they had made to Jacob and his children.
That individuals resort to havah nitkhachma, to schemes and tricks in order to give a dirty deal to a competitor or to cheat an associate in business, is deplorable and sad. But when nations stoop to such morally corrupt practices, it is a calamity. The tragedy is that frequently it is the Jew who is the victim of such evil.
We recall how much precious Jewish blood was shed needlessly before we were able to obtain the hin tzedek of the United Nations. History records the numerous attempts that were made to nullify that pledge, and the nefarious deeds of the Soviet Union in arming the Arabs to destroy the State of Israel. It was always the havah nitkhachmah policy, the attempt to outwit and outmaneuver our people with the flimsy alibis of the danger of war between the great Powers. But the Jewish people, with the help God, would not let them outsmart and outmaneuver us.
Once again the peace and security of Israel are threatened. Egypt and Syria have made an unprovoked attack on Israel on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Every fair-minded person knows that the cease-fire resolutions are "loaded" in favor of the Arabs, who, together with the Soviet Union, are the aggressors. It is just another link in the long chain of havah nitkhachmah politics applied against us.
A cute story is now making the rounds in Israel. An Egyptian officer complained to a member of the United Nations Truce Force at Kilometer 101 in the Sinai against a Jewish officer. "The Finns are gentlemen, but the Jews are not." When asked to explain what he meant, he said, "One day a Finnish officer and a Jewish one stopped a truck which was on its way to supply food and medicine to the encircled Third Egyptian Army. The Jewish officer suspected that there was hidden ammunition in the truck, and informed the Finnish officer of his misgivings. The Finn asked the Egyptian driver who assured him with his word of honor that only food and medicine were in the truck. The Finnish officer was a gentleman and accepted the word of the driver, but the Jew had no manners. He searched the truck, and found rifles and bazookas, and took them away.
When you examine the world scene, you see the treacherous havah 'nitkhachmah doctrine applied by the Red dictators. They outsmarted the American Government in the now infamous Wheat Deal. They outmaneuvered America in the Middle East by getting the Arabs to withhold oil shipments to America.
Let us hope that, as in the case of ancient Egypt, the modern Pharaohs will yet outsmart themselves. The Torah states that God will help those who honor their word and redeem their pledge. Let us pray for the day when the venomous practice of havah nitkhachmah will be outlawed and the hin tzedek philosophy will dominate. This revolutionary change will usher in an era of salvation, security and enduring peace.