"Bribing" One to be Truthful?

Moshe Abarbanel

If someone offers a judge a bribe, without any conditions, is it still considered a bribe?  What if a litigant gives a Judge a gift and tells him, "Whatever you decide is fine"...is that a bribe?  Let us examine last week's Torah portion, which states:  “And a bribe you shall not take, for the bribe blinds those who have sight and perverts the words of the righteous.” (Exod. 23:8)  What does the Torah mean by “blinding those who have sight”?  Rashi makes this posuk even more confusing by commenting as follows: “Even to judge the truth and certainly, not to pervert justice; as regarding perverting justice it already stated (Deut. 16:19)  ‘You shall not pervert judgmen't.”  So, Rashi clearly holds that this statement in Exodus is a warning against accepting bribes...even if you decide in favor truth, against the person who gave it you. But what would be wrong if the judge accepted this gift and came out with the correct ruling?

Rashi continues, “ 'Blinding those that have sight':  even [regarding] one learned in the Torah and who takes a bribe, in the end his mind will become confused and his learning will be forgotten and the light of his eyes will become dimmed.”  How would accepting this gift and deciding righteously adversely affect a wise, learned Judge?  If he ignores the gift and makes the correct decision, one would think there should be no harm.  Justice was done!  What is Rashi trying to tell us?  

Let us consider why a person typically bribes people.  The briber wants to get his way.  This stems from a self-centered view of the universe.  This person does not care about justice, or others.  His desire is rooted in an infantile view of the universe.  "It is all about me and getting my way".  This is very instinctual.  So even if he is sophisticated and tenders a gift to a judge without any conditions, he is hoping to sway the judge towards his position.  When a judge accepts this non-conditional, gift he becomes part of the briber’s desire, even though he intends and acts correctly.  Otherwise there is no reason to accept this gift, if he intends on deciding fairly.  This will cause internal conflict in the judge.  His instinctual drive (yetzer harah) will be stimulated, which fights against the intellectual part (yetzer hatov) of man.  Hence Rashi “in the end his mind will become confused.”  The first part of the conflict is confusion: “His learning is forgotten”. As he partakes of the instinctual, it forces him to forget his Torah knowledge.  This is a must, otherwise the intellectual part would dominate and force the Judge to return the money and recuse himself. 

As the instinctual drive takes over it will become dominant interfering with his ability to be involved with the great ideas of the Torah “his eyes will become dim.”  The eyes and vision refer to mans perceptions.  At this point it becomes hard for the Judge engage in Torah as he uses his position not for wisdom, but self gain. (Self gain is the same problem from which the bribing litigant suffers.)  This makes it harder for him to return to his wisdom as his perception changed.

We see the greatness of the Torah.  A non-conditional bribe is forbidden because of the corruption that it causes to the Judge – not because of the judgment.  The Torah wants man to be perfected – not perverted – so he may serve his Creator.  According to Rashi this corruption may not disturb justice, but it will disturb man's perfection.

Rambam also considers this forbidden, however he considers this a bribe.  In his listing of Mitzvot he lists negative command number 274: “Do not accept bribes as Exodus 23:8 states, ‘Do not take a bribe'.”  Here he uses our quote and makes no distinctions. But let's examine the Rambam's Mishnah Torah. In the book of Judges, Sanhedrin chapter 23, Rambam goes into depth at what constitutes a bribe.  He writes in the first halacha “Do not accept a bribe, it is not necessary to say to pervert justice but rather even to acquit the innocent and obligate the guilty – it is forbidden and you violate a negative command.”   In fact the Rambam includes anything a litigant might do to gain favor of the Judge with a bribe.  Even a benign accidental act may cause a problem.  He writes in the second halacha that a Judge who is helped out of a small canoe by a litigant, must recuse himself.   

Even though the Rambam formally defines this as a bribe, both he and Rashi agree that it is forbidden, even though a proper decision was rendered by the Judge.