Bribing Our Hearts

Yael Eckstein  |  August 10, 2021

young girl holding red heart in open hands

Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. — Deuteronomy 16:19

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means “judges,” from Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9.

Do you like chocolate? I sure do. And I was thrilled a few years ago when I read that chocolate has actual health benefits. Chocolate contains valuable antioxidants, and studies have shown that eating chocolate has psychological benefits as a mood enhancer. Now I don’t need to feel guilty when I eat chocolate no matter how high in fat and sugar it may be. Right?

The truth is that from an overall health perspective, the benefits of chocolate probably don’t outweigh the harm done by all that fat and sugar. But still I cling to those antioxidants and tell myself that eating chocolate is not so bad. Maybe it’s even good for me.

We all do this type of rationalization from time to time, don’t we? And while chocolate may not be that big of a deal, what happens when we use this kind of thinking for more important issues? Like when we feel a need to compromise on our faith principles for the sake of not rocking the boat.

The problem is that when we rationalize not doing the right thing, we are choosing our own comfort zone over what we know is right in our hearts. In essence, we’re “bribing” our hearts to accept an otherwise unacceptable situation.

Bribing Our Hearts

When warning judges against accepting bribes, Moses added a compelling reason that applies to all of us, even in our private lives of faith, when he told the Israelites: “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.”

The Bible teaches us that a bribe is not only immoral because of the obvious dishonesty involved in a judge ruling a certain way because he was paid off. But as the Bible also teaches, “a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise,” meaning that the enticement of personal gain can blind us. We no longer see the situation clearly. Our ability to make a clear and morally correct decision is impaired by our own self-interest.

Because I benefit from the pleasure of eating chocolate, that desire for pleasure will blind me to the negative health effects. I will overrate the benefits that I read about and convince myself that eating chocolate is a good thing. Like a judge who accepted a gift, I’ve bribed myself.

Life is full of tough decisions. Tougher than chocolate. Sometimes, overcoming the ways that we bribe our hearts takes courage. It takes self-awareness and honesty. We must pray for strength and be true to ourselves and to God.

Your Turn:

Is there a decision you are facing that demands honest self-reflection? Are you battling your own rationalization? Let’s pray together for strength and guidance from God.

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