THE PURSUIT OF JUSTICE
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This weeks Parsha speaks about the judicial system which was to govern the religious and societal life of the Jewish nation. The most important concern was the prevention of corruption. Thus, those chosen to be judges must possess not only great knowledge but extreme integrity as well. The Torah exhorts: "And do not take a bribe because a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts righteous judgement." We may, however ask: why must the Torah explain why it is wrong to take a bribe? Is it not self evident that once I take a gift I will rule in favor of the party that proferred it? In fact, the very commandment to "judge righteously" intrinsically precludes bribe-taking. Why, then, is there a need for a separate injunction against taking "shochad"?
Rashi makes an interesting observation. He says one may not take a bribe even to render a "just decision". This means that if one party offers money to a judge to try his case and says with complete sincerity "I do not want you to rule in my favor but only according to what you regard as the truth", he must not take the case. The reason, according to Rashi, is that once a person accepts "something" he cannot help but be more favorably disposed toward the one who gave it. The Torah's prohibition of bribery includes all types of "favors" which interfere with the mind set of neutrality and intellectual objectivity so vital to a just verdict.
This lesson has great relevance to all of us. We are constantly making evaluations, judgements and decisions about family members, friends, public figures etc. The Torah commands each one of us: "With righteousness shall you judge your friend". We are instructed to be judicious in our "judgements" and "verdicts" about others. In order to do this we must recognize and acknowledge our inner biases, both positive and negative, and be able to put them aside and make judgements from the standpoint of neutrality and genuine objectivity. Shabbat Shalom