SALT - Thursday, 5 Elul 5779 - September 5, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
"א-ל נא, רפא נא לה";  בתוך שאר חולי ישראל.
            The Torah in Parashat Shoftim (16:19) reiterates the strict prohibition against judges accepting bribes, explaining, “for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and distorts the words of the pious.”
            Rav Naftali of Ropshitz (in Zera Kodesh) suggests viewing this prohibition directed towards judges as an admonition to each and every one of us, warning against accepting a “bribe” from ourselves – specifically, from our evil inclinations.  Sometimes, rather than simply dissuading us from properly fulfilling our duties, our sinful impulse will offer us a “bribe” – granting us the inspiration and motivation to achieve something significant, to perform an especially virtuous act in an especially virtuous way.  In return, we are expected to surrender to our sinful instincts and lower our standards in other areas.  Just as a litigant is prepared to sacrifice a small sum of money in the form of a bribe to secure a favorable verdict, similarly, the negative impulse within us is prepared to make the sacrifice of allowing us to achieve and excel in a certain mitzva so that we then feel proud and gratified, leading us to general complacency.  Rav Naftali of Ropshitz creatively suggests that the Torah’s description of how a bribe “blinds the eyes of the wise” could allude, in the symbolic sense, to the misleading image of piety projected by a person who accepts such a “bribe.”  When we excel in a certain area, we can expect to earn the admiration, respect and accolades of “wise” and impressive people, which feeds our feelings of pride that can then easily develop into arrogance.  The “bribe” also has the effect of “distorting the words of the pious” – causing us to mistakenly assume in our arrogant self-confidence that words of instruction and guidance from our pious leaders are not relevant to us, given our impressive achievements.
            The Torah’s obligations are numerous, diverse and wide-ranging, which can pose a considerable challenge.  We might therefore be tempted to focus our attention on one particular area in order to absolve ourselves in our minds of our responsibilities in other areas.  Religious observance becomes far simpler when we try to narrow it down to a small number of obligations and values, and so we might be tempted to “bribe” ourselves by committing ourselves at a high standard to one mitzva and feel justified in neglecting or making comprises in others.  Rav Naftali of Ropshitz warns us against accepting such “bribes,” that we must not allow our success and achievement in one area to blind us to our responsibilities in other areas, and that we must instead honestly and humbly embrace and commit ourselves to each and every obligation the Torah casts upon us.