Bribery makes you blind
Living in South Africa, we see how bribery and corruption result in the decay of our social institutions and unless checked, can lead to the breakdown of society. The Torah teaches that bribery could also undermine the moral fibre of our personal lives.
This week, we read Parshas Mishpatim. The verse (Shmos 23:8) says, “You shall not accept a bribe for the bribe will blind those who see and corrupt the words of the righteous.” We assume this doesn’t apply to us because most of us aren’t judges in courts hearing disputes between litigants.
The commentators explain that this isn’t correct. As individuals, we make judgement calls many times each day. In making those decisions, we constantly need to be on guard to not take bribes.
The Torah is teaching us that any time there’s personal gain involved, be it physical pleasure, money, honour, or convenience, we are already “on the take” and our judgement is compromised.
In his sefer Emunah V’Bitachon, the Chazon Ish writes, “Personal involvement is something that affects great and small people alike. This is nothing to be ashamed about and it doesn’t call into question the person’s piety. This is engraved into human nature”.
The purpose of life was told to the Jewish people by G-d at Mount Sinai. Our souls were sent down to this world into our bodies for us to develop and grow spiritually. The mitzvos are the framework for this inner work. Our objective is to rise above our lower selves, beyond the urges of our physical existence. To live a life fulfilling the will of our creator rather than being fixated on our appetite for power and pleasure. This can be achieved only by rising above our own personal agenda.
How do we live in a truthful way, overcoming our natural bias towards lowly personal interests? Rabbi Frand advises following the teaching in Pirkei Avos (Avos 1:6): “Make yourself a rav, and acquire for yourself a friend.” We all delude ourselves saying, “I’m able to raise myself above my personal interests and come to a balanced and proper decision.” This is very difficult to do without the input and advice of a non-compromised third party. Fortunate is the person whose spouse is that friend and objective advisor. We would all be wise to follow this advice in our wonderful journey through life.