Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. — Deuteronomy 16:19
The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means “judges,” from Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 51:12–52:12.
Perhaps you have wondered how some of the most brilliant people in history can deny the existence of God. To the believer, it seems ridiculous to think that the world happened by accident and that there is no one behind the curtain running the show. Life is simply too miraculous and spectacular, complicated and intricate, to be the product of chance!
The Jewish sages teach that studying nature and science is one way to experience God and know deeply that He exists. However, Judaism maintains that this kind of investigation isn’t necessary, albeit worthwhile. The sages point to a kind of faith they call “simple faith.” Just as no one would suggest that a beautiful work of art was created by the accidental spilling of buckets of paint, no one could possibly suggest that a world as wonderful as ours happened by accident. You need not be a scholar to understand that there is an omnipotent force that created our world. You just need to open your eyes and see. It’s simple.
So why do so many wise people deny God’s existence?
I once heard this anecdote from a colleague: A noted rabbi was delivering a powerful lecture about God and the Bible to a group of adults when one of the participants, a college professor, interrupted. He said, “I want you to stop speaking right now. If you continue, I might have to change my lifestyle – and I like my lifestyle!”
There you have it. Why do some incredibly intelligent people fail to see the hand of God? Because they don’t want to. If they did, they might have to change, and they don’t want to change.
In this week’s reading we learn the laws regarding judges. One of the laws reads, “Do not accept a bribe . . .” The sages explain that this injunction is not just for judges, but also for every person. When we judge our lives – when we make decisions about what we believe and how we should live – we are not to accept “bribes.” We are not to be swayed by the comforts and pleasures that may result from choosing what feels good, instead of choosing what is right. If we are too attached to the material objects and physical pleasures in our lives, our eyes may become blinded to the truth, “for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise . . .”
If you have ever had a decision to make and couldn’t get a clear answer, no matter how hard you thought or prayed about it, perhaps a “bribe” could be clouding your vision. Let go of the pleasure and comforts that each decision affords, and then look for your answer anew. I’m willing to bet you will see more clearly.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President