Double standards

By Rabbi Stephen Fisch
Parashat Ki Tetse

Our Torah portion for this week, Ki Tetse, is filled with mitzvot which apply to us today as much as they did in Biblical times. There are laws about being sure that we return lost property to the person to whom it belongs. We read about kindness to animals, and being sure that we have safety measures as we build our houses. If someone owes us, we must not take an object by which that person makes a living. We must pay our laborers on the same day that they provide their services to us. We cannot “subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless.”

While all of these mitzvot are important, a few verses in this parasha stood out to me. In D’varim (Deuteronomy) Chapter 25, verses 13 and following, the Torah tells us: “Do not have two differing weights in your bag — one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house — one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures ….”

Rashi says, “It is not different sizes that are forbidden, but their use for deception. He must not use the larger one to buy and the smaller one to sell.” The Torah is obviously legislating against merchants cheating their customers. Beyond tangible dishonesty, described in this passage, the Torah provides an example which applies to many aspects of our lives today. If we change the concept from a legal requirement to a moral example, this point becomes clear.

How often do we apply a double standard, one for ourselves and one for others? We frequently demand a high standard of behavior from others, but when we find ourselves in a similar situation we rationalize and equivocate to justify our behavior. Intentional use of double standards involves a conscious and active decision to apply them and occurs primarily when we feel that the double standard could help us achieve some goal.

Psychologists tell us of confirmation bias, a cognitive favoritism that causes people to search for, favor, interpret and recall information in a way that confirms their preexisting beliefs. This can often occur even among our conversations with our spouses or friends. A cliché I have often heard and used asks, “Do you want to be happy or right?” Each of us is uniquely created b’tzelem Elohim, in G-d’s image. Far too often, however, differences among us are not perceived simply as differences, but as impairments. In our society today, we continue to fight against the double standard applied to men versus women.

We’ve often heard that when a man is strong and decisive in his opinions, he is assertive, but when a woman exhibits similar behavior — she is aggressive. Our teenagers can tell us that when a boy attracts girls, he is “popular,” but when a girl does so, she is a “flirt.”

The most extreme double standards we see today are in regard to inequality between the sexes, exemplified by the “me too” movement.

Our society has recognized the danger of sexual abuse, harassment and sexual violence. We all too often, however, turn a blind eye to this degradation. We Jews know all too well how double standards affect us. As we approach our Yamim Noraim, our High Holidays, let’s resolve to recognize our own double standards and transform ourselves to accept the same standard for ourselves as for others.

Rabbi Stephen Fisch serves Congregation Adat Chaverim.

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