Archive for Honesty

Bribing the Judge

This article was constructed with the help of Rabbis Baruch Dopelt and Jay Shapiro.
…and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked.(16:19)
We learn something fascinating in the Talmud:
Rava asked: What is the reason for the prohibition against taking bribes even if the judge is sincerely trying to render a fair judgment?
Because once a person receives a gift from somebody he establishes a bond, and the giver becomes like him, and no one ever finds fault with himself. What is the meaning of the word SHOCHAD, “BRIBE”?  SHO-HU-CHAD the recipient and the giver are like one person.” (Ketubot)  Approximately, 150 years ago lived a young Rabbi, Rav Chaim Halberstam, who auditioned for an esteem pulpit position in one particular town. In his later years, he rose to prominence by writing a master piece book called “Divrai Chaim”.
There were many notable rabbis who were vying for this position. However, one of the highly regarded and wealthy congregant who was on the board of directors took a strong liking toward the young Rabbi Halberstam and campaigned for him vigorously to win the position. The businessman was relentless in his quest to secure Rav Chaim to be” thee Rabbi” and eventually he succeeded.
However, after a few months the Rabbi was put in an awkward situation to say the least when someone approached him claiming that the same wealthy businessman who  singled handily got him the position, owed him money. He intended on taking him to Bet Din-Jewish court.
It was Rav Chaim responsibility, since he was the chief Rabbi, to customarily send a messenger to the defendant and order him to court to face charges. Although the rich businessman helped him tremendously nevertheless Rav Chaim proceeded with the necessary protocol.
The messenger, though, returned and answered the Rav with a respond of “he is too busy to come”.
The Rav sent the messenger again and that he should insist that the businessman should come right away; it’s a matter of urgency!
However, once again the response from the businessman was “I do not have time to come, my apologies.”
Rav Chaim send the messenger again with a very stern message “I am following proper protocol and asking you for the third and last time; it is in your best interest to come. If you do not honor us with your presence I would have no choice but to put you in CHEREM-banishment.
The businessman realized that Rav Chaim was dead serious in his threats, had no choice but to came to court.
Rav Chaim asked both the accuser and the businessman to rise as he read the complaint. Rabbi Halberstam then suggested a fast day for himself the accuser and the defendant and each one should pray that the outcome should be a fair one.  He then asked the businessman about the charges.
The response was “there are no charges.  Everyone looked at each other. The people in the Judge’s chambers were bewildered by the businessman’s response. “I hired this man, the accuser to voice his grievance against me to see if you will honor the Torah and hold true to the court of law or perhaps you will be weak and be too embarrassed to act with me in the proper way, because you owed me a debt of gratitude.  However, I see now that I was correct in pursuing you and insisting you to be the Rabbi. You held your grounds, were not impartial, and have proven to be the right choice. 

       To be a judge and perform your duties correctly is not a simple task. Many times judges are faced with bribes, and have to carefully dance around the temptation of accepting it.
       This lesson can be applied instantaneously in our everyday life. We too are judges and have to make decisions on a daily basis. Some of those decisions are not only daily business decisions but also deeply philosophical religious ones whose outcome are affecting our lives at present and will affect the lives of our children.
Evil holds the biggest poker chip, the biggest bribe of all and that is the notion that we are free to do whatever we want in this life. Evil would like us to believe we don’t have to answer to anyone.
        A precious psalm that was created by Adam, the first man, and is recited at the Friday night Shabbat services Mizmor shir l’yom hashabat, has a profound line pertaining to our subject matter:
“Mah gadelu ma’secha HASHEM, me’d ameku machshehvotecha”
How great are your deeds G-d, exceedingly profound are your thoughts.
What thoughts is Adam taking about that is profound?
       Let us not forget, Adam said this just hours after sinning. He was licking his wounds, resting. This praise was said, while under the protection of the Shabbat.
It’s a bittersweet statement:
Adam was impressed by the thought put in and the clever way G-d was able to use evil to create a self deception in man that he should wonder if G-d exists and if the Torah is true.
IT’S SO OBVIOUS OF G-D POWER, JUST LOOK AROUND!! and yet there’s is a mechanism in us to doubt.
G-d gave evil a weapon. The ability to bribe man that if he denies him he can be free to do whatever he pleases.
That is the ultimate bribe we have to reject.
Decisions for a judge can be difficult.
These are a few pitfalls one might face. Although it seems obvious, it’s very prevalent.
*He must not be sympathetic with a poor person just because the other party is rich
*He should not favor the rich, and say I’ll declare him victorious just not to embarrass him and in private I will tell him he should really compensate the other party
*He should not hear one testimony with the other not present. Human nature is one favors the undisputed first testimony he hears.
       Rabbi Shmuel Shtrasson, otherwise known as the RASHASH, who has a commentary on the Talmud, once lend a large amount of money to an individual. The loan was for 6 months. The man promptly came to re-pay the loan when it was due, however, Rav Shmuel who was known to delve deeply and entrance himself in his studies, received the money for the loan while he was very involved in his learning. He forgetfully placed it in one of his books after the individual left. The man didn’t want to disturb the Rabbi studying so he did not ask him for a signature that he returned the money.
        A few days later Rav Shmuel looks at his ledger and realizes that this person did not repay the loan. However, the person said he returned the money a few days ago when the Rav approached him. “I don’t remember you doing so” the Rabbi said. For the next week, he searched all over his house but no envelope with the money was found.
       The Rabbi had no choice but to take this man to Bet Din.
In front of Bet Din the man swears that he returned the money. Yet there was no document to prove the money was returned.
       Rabbi Shtrassonn rationalized since this person, who was a trusted upstanding citizen, would swear under oath that he returned the money, then it must be that he did. So in court the Rav forgave the loan. Nevertheless when the towns people got word that the Rabbi forgave the loan even though there was no evidence that he returned the money, they rationalized that this man was dishonest in dealing with the Rav. Soon the entire town knew about this incident; people did not want to do business with him; his business plummeted where he had no choice but to close up shop. His reputation was ruined. Nobody wanted to marry his children. The rabbi’s plea to the townspeople to let the incident pass was to no avail. The person was forced to move out of town.
       One day The Rabbi was cleaning for Pesach and low and be hold he finds the envelope with the money in the book. He immediately locates the person and pleads to him to move back. “I’ll make an announcement that I found the money” the Rabbi said. The person replied “they’ll never believe you. You’ll be looked upon as a tzadik trying one last ditch effort to rectify the situation.”
       The Rabbi thought and came up with a solution. “If our children agree I would like to have my child marry yours. This is the only way the world would realize that you gave back the loan. They would say he would never give his child to marry his if there was any sort of ill feelings.
       There is a very valuable lesson we learn from this story. People, even the smartest and most prominent, make mistakes. No one is immune from forgetfulness or from reading a person incorrectly; we are human after all.
To whom does the negative commandment of bribery apply to?
        In my old industry bribery was not only random it was mandatory. The buyers of companies, banking officials, post office workers would all get compensated, some very nicely, at the end of the year.
 Is that considered a bribe?
       Although bribing some of the mentioned above is not considered the negative commandment of bribery, some may argue that it is considered though as steeling. This is because the buyer might buy a better deal from another vender, yet due to your nice gift, they’re buying from you. They are not supplying the best product for their company.
 The negative commandment of bribery is only when bribing Judges.
       It seems like G-d passes  down a big responsibility to the leaders and Judges of his Jewish people. They have to act in a dignified manor because they become a representative of HIM. They  have to earn the respect of the people. In essence when one bribes a judge he becomes an extension of the one who gave the bribe as we mentioned earlier. In other words he, the one who bribes, is judging himself. This is unfair and it makes a mockery of the judicial system. G-d is embarrassed of an unfair court because it demeans his authority; it demeans justice. without justice society inevitably will break down.
       So what starts with a  mere small payoff to the judge can lead to severe ramifications  down the road