“You shall not pervert
judgment, you shall not respect someone’s presence, and you shall not
accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make
just words crooked.” – Devarim 16:19
The mitzvah of appointing judges
The Jewish nation as a totality was given
the mitzvah of appointing judges. These judges were commanded to
mediate with righteousness according to the Torah’s laws. One of the
rules of a judge is that he may not accept a bribe because a “bribe
will blind the eyes of the wise.”
Rashi is bothered by a question: the
Torah already commanded the judges to rule honestly with the expression,
“Do not pervert justice.” There is no need for a second
prohibition against accepting bribery. The purpose of a bribe is to
cause the judge to ignore the truth and change the verdict. That is
certainly included in the requirement of not perverting justice. So why
does the Torah write a second prohibition specifically warning judges
not to accept bribes?
Rashi answers that the prohibition of not
accepting bribery refers even to cases in which the judge fully intends
to rule fairly. If a shofet plans to accept a bribe but not to
allow it to influence his decision, the Torah forbids him from doing
this. The nature of bribery is to pull his heart, and it is impossible
to remain unbiased once he has received a bribe. The Torah is teaching
us that even if he wants to judge honestly, it will be impossible for
him to do so because once he accepts a bribe, against his will he will
favor the one who bribed him.
This Rashi is difficult to understand.
Assuming we are dealing with an experienced, skilled judge who is
well-versed in law and the proceedings, why can’t he accept a bribe and
still judge honestly? The facts are the facts. Either the man is guilty
or innocent. Either he owes the money or he doesn’t. Why can’t a judge
make up his mind that the money is the money, but I will not allow this
to affect my ruling in this case?
The wind made it
The answer to this question can best be
understood with a moshol. Imagine that you find yourself in a
junkyard in the backwoods of Tennessee. You look around and see piles
and piles scrap: old refrigerators, a rusted-out stove top, entire cars
demolished. Everything is all strewn about without any order. Then
suddenly you see something out of place: a brand new Dell laptop
computer — red color, no less. You pick it up and you see that it is
unscratched and in perfect working order. You turn to the owner of the
junkyard, a rather primitive fellow, and innocently ask, “Where did this
“Oh,” he responds. “I don’t know if
you’all heard, but we had us some fierce winds here last night.”
“Yeah, some real gusters. I come this
morning and things ar’ all blown about. Then I sees that there computer.
I rightly figure that them winds just blew the pieces together.”
You look at the fellow incredulously and
ask, “The wind blew the pieces together? “Sir, I don’t mean to be rude,
but there is a monitor and a fully functioning mouse. I turn it on, and
the fan kicks in. And the keyboard! How do you explain the keyboard?
Look at it, QWERTY, in perfect order!”
This is a very apt parable. We will have
conversations with intelligent, well educated people who will tell you
that the world evolved. Everything that you see, from the flower to the
bee, from the oceans to the mountains, rivers, planets, the sun, the
moon, and the stars, all just sort of happened. No designer. No Creator.
It just began with a Big Bang and all of the wonder of this infinitely
complex world came into being. The uniformity, the complexity, the
harmonious systems, the universal laws of physics, just happened. Just a
lucky roll of the cosmic dice and a hundred billion galaxies, each one
containing a hundred billion stars – just occurred.
These same people who tout evolution as
a religion are also aware that life has exact rules. The simplest amoeba
is far more complex than any machine ever devised by man, and a human
baby is infinitely complex than an amoeba. The trillions and trillions
of cells of the body are all specific, all organized into organs and
systems with each one perfectly in place, each one playing its part.
Every cell in the human body is directed by the DNA coding. The question
is how can any thinking person possibly think that this just evolved?
Who wrote the code?
The answer is that HASHEM created man
with free will, free will to believe or not to believe, to accept or not
to accept. With the capacity called free will was included this most
amazing ability to accept the most far-fetched, ludicrous positions as
long as it fits into my agenda.
This seems to be the answer for Rashi.
The Torah is teaching us that the human may be brilliant and wise, but
he has a weakness. His pure judgment can be easily influenced. If a man
accepts a bribe, it will color his vision. He will lose his detached
sense of judgment and will no longer be able to rule objectively. He may
think that he won’t be influenced, but it is human nature to be pulled,
and he will no longer be capable of objective clarity. He will be
For more on
this topic please listen to Shmuz #22 – Evolution does it make sense?
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