Before one weighs an object one must ensure that the scale is calibrated accurately and precisely. For that reason, in 1956 the Department of Weights and Measures was created to ensure that weights used in commerce are guaranteed to be uniformly accurate.
The Torah warns a judge not to accept bribes “because a bribe blinds the eyes of the sharp ones and corrupts the words of the righteous” (Shemos 23:8). Even a small gift or favor is considered a bribe. The Gemara (Kesuvos 105b) tells us that Rava, the great Amora, was perplexed: why does this prohibition apply even to a bribe that would be accepted to rule in favor of the rightful party? In such a case the bribe has not affected the judgment, since the party that would have won the case without the bribe was successful. Rava explains the inherently damaging nature of a bribe: once a person receives it, he becomes personally attached to the one who gave it to him – so attached that now he will view that person’s position as his own…and a person does not see his own faults!
You may be asking yourself, “Okay, now I’ve learned a valuable lesson about judges and Beis Din, but what does this have to do with me? I’m not a judge.” How wrong this is! Anyone who hears others and evaluates their claims and statements is a judge. Every day we make decisions and judgment calls, large and small. Are we about to speak lashon hara, be deceitful or tell a lie, chas v’shalom? Hopefully we assess what we are about to say before we speak and bring our words in line with the laws of the Torah.
Some of the large things we judge are whether our children should be doing better in school and whether our schools could be educating our children better. We judge whether we are treating our spouses properly, and parenting our children in the best way. We judge whether we are performing mitzvos properly and dedicating enough time and energy to our Torah learning.
Now we need to examine ourselves and determine: are we receiving any bribes? Are we totally impartial? Do we treat a request from someone who says “Please” and smiles or looks dependent, as we do from someone who merely states his need? Yet their needs may be the same!
Let’s face it: except for the greatest tzadikkim who have truly perfected their love for Hashem, there is no greater love in this world than the love one has for oneself. If we are honest with ourselves we’ll admit that we are extremely biased and easily influenced; we love to feel appreciated and respected, to be thanked and smiled at courteously. So how can we ever determine what is right and what is wrong?
I’m sorry, but there is no easy answer. The great gadol, Rav Eliyahu Dessler, zt”l, explains that this dilemma is the reason why it is imperative to scrutinize our inner selves, discern our personal tendencies and character traits and constantly work at improving them. It is hard and never ending, but we must weed out the bad traits that cause our biases at the roots.
This work is what we call mussar. Mussar that is learned and thought about properly is extremely effective. Without mussar it is impossible to reach the truth, but with constant work and the proper approach and consideration we can reach the level where we can make decisions even concerning ourselves. It will surely take years and years of diligent, rigorous work, but we can do it: HaKadosh Baruch Hu doesn’t give out impossible assignments! (Avoda Zara 3a).
Yet, meanwhile, as we study mussar and work to perfect ourselves, what should we do? Since we are “blinded by the bribery,” we must get ourselves a guide with 20-20 vision: our Torah giants! They are the ones who have done the work, and are blessed with additional siyatta d’Shmaya to see the world with absolute clarity. That is why it is imperative for every Jew to have a Rebbe/Rav, not just to ask what to do when milk spills into the cholent or to speak at your son’s bar mitzvah, but to guide you in your life. A rebbe is someone with whom you develop a personal relationship, someone devoted to helping you develop in your avodas Hashem. Your rebbe is impartial and has the clarity gained from the Torah to see impartial truth – emmess l’amisso – and guide you accordingly.