“You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not respect someone’s presence, and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked.” – Devarim 16:19
The Jewish nation as a totality was given the mitzvah of appointing judges. These judges were commanded to mediate with righteousness according to the Torah’s laws. One of the rules of a judge is that he may not accept a bribe because a “bribe will blind the eyes of the wise.”
Rashi is bothered by a question: The Torah already commanded the judges to rule honestly with the expression “Do not pervert justice.” There is no need for a second prohibition against accepting bribery. The purpose of a bribe is to cause the judge to ignore the truth and change the verdict. That is certainly included in the requirement of not perverting justice. So why does the Torah issue a prohibition specifically warning judges not to accept bribes?
Rashi answers that the prohibition of not accepting bribery refers even to cases in which the judge fully intends to rule fairly. If a shofet plans to accept a bribe but not to allow it to influence his decision, the Torah forbids him from doing this. The nature of bribery is to pull his heart, and it is impossible to remain unbiased once he has received a bribe. The Torah is teaching us that even if he wants to judge honestly, it will be impossible for him to do so because once he accepts a bribe, against his will he will favor the one who bribed him.
This Rashi is difficult to understand. Assuming we are dealing with an experienced, skilled judge who is well versed in law and the proceedings, why can’t he accept a bribe and still judge honestly? The facts are the facts. Either the man is guilty or innocent. Either he owes the money or he doesn’t.
The Wind Made It
The answer to this question can best be understood with a mashol. Imagine that you find yourself in a junkyard in the backwoods of Tennessee. You look around and see piles and piles of scrap: old refrigerators, a rusted-out stove top, entire cars demolished. Everything is all strewn about without any order. Then suddenly you see something out of place: a brand new Dell laptop computer – red color, no less. You pick it up and you see that it is unscratched and in perfect working order. You turn to the owner of the junkyard, a rather primitive fellow, and innocently ask, “Where did this come from?”
“Oh,” he responds. “I don’t know if you all heard, but we had us some fierce winds here last night.”
“Yeah, some real gusters. I came this morning and things were all blown about. Then I see this here computer. I rightly figure the winds just blew the pieces together.”
You look at the fellow incredulously and ask, “The wind blew the pieces together? Sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but there is a monitor and a fully functioning mouse. I turn it on, and the fan kicks in. And the keyboard! How do you explain the keyboard? Look at it, QWERTY, in perfect order!”
This is a very apt parable. We will have conversations with intelligent, well-educated people who tell you the world evolved. Everything you see – from the flower to the bee, from the oceans to the mountains, rivers and planets, the sun, the moon, and the stars – all just sort of happened. No designer. No creator. It just began with a Big Bang and all of the wonder of this infinitely complex world came into being.
The uniformity, the complexity, the harmonious systems, the universal laws of physics – all just happened. A lucky roll of the cosmic dice and a hundred billion galaxies, each one containing a hundred billion stars, appeared out of nowhere.
Evolution as Religion
The same people who tout evolution as a religion are also aware that life has exact rules. The simplest amoeba is far more complex than any machine ever devised by man, and a human baby is infinitely more complex than an amoeba. The trillions and trillions of cells of the body are all specific, all organized into organs and systems with each one perfectly in place, each one playing its part. Every cell in the human body is directed by DNA coding. The question is, how can any intelligent person possibly think this just evolved? Who wrote the code?
The answer is that Hashem created man with free will – free will to believe or not to believe, to accept or not to accept. The capacity for free will included this most amazing ability to accept the most farfetched, ludicrous positions as long as they fit into a person’s agenda.
This seems to be the answer for Rashi. The Torah is teaching us that the human may be brilliant and wise, but he has a weakness. His pure judgment can be easily influenced. If a man accepts a bribe, it will color his vision. He will lose his detached sense of judgment and will no longer be able to rule objectively. He may think he won’t be influenced, but it is human nature to be pulled, and he will no longer be capable of objective clarity. He will be blinded.