"Don't wrest judgment and don't give (special) recognition, and don't take
bribes, because bribes blind the eyes of the wise and pervert correct
judgments" (Deuteronomy 16:19).
These laws have many applications. Among them is the law not to place a
judge in office just on the merit of being a friend or colleague. This
applies especially when that judge is less knowledgeable in comparison to
another candidate. This is called wresting judgment since the more
knowledgeable judge is more expert, and can better apply his broader
knowledge to each case.
"Don't give (special) recognition" is a warning which applies itself to a
judge who is hearing the testimony of two or more plaintiffs. One should not
treat one plaintiff better than another. Doing so causes the other plaintiff
to close up and despair of getting justice.
Don't take bribes is a warning to a judge not to take something from a
litigant even if the litigant says "this is so you'll judge fairly. G-d, the
creator, knows the nature of humankind. Even if the litigant does not
request that the judgment be in his favor, the gift will corrupt the
perspective of the judge and he will favor that litigant.
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, of blessed memory (d. 1941), asks a key question
regarding a law found in the compilation of laws by Maimonides. It states
that there is an obligation to believe in G-d. This is best understood as
there being an obligation to cultivate one's already intact belief in G-d
through analysis of the creation, and various other methods. Consequently,
everyone who is obligated to observe commandments, girls, age 12 and up,
boys, age 13 and up, are obligated as well to believe in G-d. Rav Elchonon
asks how it is reasonable to expect such a thing from a child? Even great
philosophers had difficulty in issues of faith in G-d's existence! Rabbi
Wasserman further asks how it can be that a person ignorant of the
responsibilities placed upon him by G-d can be held responsible for not
having performed them.
Rabbi Wasserman answers that really the question should be just the
opposite. How is it possible that a wise philosopher could have questions of
faith? He says that if you found a beautifully written paragraph, and you
were told that it is the result of a monkey randomly spilling ink on a sheet
of paper, you would not consider it remotely possible. Yet when we observe a
world infinitely more complicated than a paragraph, and obviously belying
design and purpose, we fail to recognize a Designer, and even make claims to
Rabbi Wasserman's answer, then, is that since it really is simple for a
reasonable person to believe in The Creator, even those with untrained minds
such as the young, and even the most unsophisticated people can be held
responsible for not recognizing Him, and feeling indebted to Him.
Why then did great philosophers have questions of faith? Rabbi Wasserman
explains that it is because of lack of objectivity. People understand that
if they accept the concept of a G-d then it follows that He created the
world for a purpose which involves them. That means that there is something
they need to be doing that they aren't presently doing. In other words, they
feel that belief in G-d will prevent them from continuing to attain their
earthly desires which run contrary to G-d's dictates. Rabbi Wasserman points
out that in Jewish law the minimum bribe prohibited (which can corrupt ones
perspective) is the minimum amount of money that people ascribe value to.
Approximately the equivalent of one nickel is enough to sway a mind ever so
subtly. This prohibition even applies to Moshe Rabbainu! Applying this
reasoning, Rabbi Wasserman says that even some of the greatest minds can
lack objectivity in matters of faith because of something relatively small
which they fear they will lose. However, an objective mind can easily
recognize the hands of a designer in the creation.
Don't take a bribe is a law given primarily to judges. However, the student
of Torah understands that he is also a judge in the broader sense. The way
he chooses to live is based on his perceptions of the world. If his
perceptions are not objective, then his conclusions can be no better. May we
be given the wisdom to understand our motivations and base our conclusions