cardinal sin / n. the error of reducing everything to numbers.
We use two different kinds of numbers in everyday life: cardinal and ordinal.
Ordinal numbers rank things (1st, 2nd, 3rd) while cardinal numbers measure them (1 inch, 2 inches, three inches). Ordinal numbers are used to assign value, but cannot be used to calculate. What is the product of your first love and your third? How do you subtract the best day from the worst? With difficulty.
Cardinal numbers can be used to calculate anything that can be measured. Obviously this does not include values, but that has not stopped economists from trying. In fact, the sad history of the dismal science can be summed up as a failed attempt to do just that.
It's Seder, when Jewish folks get together and share Timbits, savouring the wrongs done to their people over the past 4,000 years, and it's getting to be a long list.
Anyway, this particular Seder, Rabbi Goldstein is suddenly overcome by the cantor's sorrowful voice and throws himself down in the dust. "Ah! Compared to the sufferings of my people, my small worries are nothing! I'm nothing!"
Needlebaum, the richest guy in town, sees this and throws himself in the dust beside the rabbi. "But you at least serve God! It is I, with all my finery, who am truly nothing!"
Then Shmenge, who's an idiot, with a torn coat and no manners, throws himself down in the dust beside them and cries "No! It is I, who have made nothing of my life, I who am nothing!"
Needlebaum looks at the rabbi and says, "Huh! Look who thinks he's nothing."