By Rabbi Mendy Wolf
There was once a king who was very fond of target shooting. He practiced daily and arranged competitions. With time, he felt that he had gotten pretty good at the sport, yet he continued trying to improve.
One day, as he was traveling through the countryside, the king noticed several target boards near a small peasant hut. Looking closely, he was astonished to see that every one of the many darts on the boards was precisely in the center! This simple peasant was apparently an expert; he had hit a bull’s eye with every try!
Curious to learn how the man had done it, the king knocked on the door of the hut. The peasant who answered laughed heartily at the sound of the king’s question. “Why, it’s very simple,” he replied naively. “Instead of drawing the target and aiming towards it, I throw the darts, and then draw the circles around them. It works every time…”
This week’s Parsha, Shoftim, includes a prohibition for judges to take bribes. The Torah then explains the reason for this commandment: “For bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.”
Now you’re probably thinking, “No kidding; that’s the definition of a bribe! What kind of reason is that?”
Good point. But the Torah is actually not trying to explain what’s wrong with paying off a judge; it’s obvious that corrupting fair judgment is immoral. Rather, the Torah seeks to clarify a fact. Often, people say, “I can be objective in this case, despite my connection to it.” Recognizing the difficulty with proper judgment when personal concerns are involved, we may nonetheless convince ourselves that we are immune to the bribery, intellectually and emotionally capable of separating fact from feeling.
Yet the Torah cautions us that the danger of bribery is not merely a possibility, nor even a probability. It is an automatic effect. Bribery – monetary or otherwise – skews one’s perception, literally “blinding” him to reality. No one is immune.
We are all judges, all of the time. For there are constantly important decisions to be made, and these require clear thinking and examination of facts. But often, we may be swayed by bribes – personal concerns, interests and feelings. We may have the best of intentions, yet the possibility of a purely objective decision is, technically, out of our reach: “For bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.”
For this reason, it is crucial that every one of us have a mentor, an objective individual upon whom we rely to help us make proper decisions. Before signing the dotted line, run it by someone out of the picture. It’s a sort of reality check, a way to make sure that we are aiming towards the target, rather than adjusting the goal to suit us.
Rabbi Mendy Wolf is the educational director for the Institute of American & Talmudic Law, and the director for Project Life, an organization which promotes Jewish values throughout the business community in NYC. R’ Mendy is a sought after teacher and lecturer and resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and family. Contact Rabbi Mendy to book him to speak or with feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.