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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Shoftim 5777 "Emotional Bribery"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Melburn McBroom was a domineering boss, with a temper that intimidated those who worked with him. It may not have been so terrible if McBroom worked in a factory or in an office. But McBroom was an airline pilot.

One day in 1978 McBroom’s plane was approaching Portland, Oregon, when he noticed a problem with the landing gear. McBroom went into a holding pattern, circling the field at a high altitude while he fiddled with the mechanism.

As McBroom obsessed about the landing gear, the plane’s fuel gauges steadily approached empty. But the copilots were so fearful of McBroom’s wrath that they said nothing, even as disaster loomed. The plane eventually crashed, killing ten people.

In his noted work, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman uses this story to argue the importance of ‘emotional intelligence’: “Imagine the benefits of being skilled in the basic emotional competencies – being attuned to those feelings we deal with, being able to handle disagreements so they do not escalate, having the ability to get into flow states while doing our work. Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal. And, in terms of managing our own career, there may be nothing more essential than recognizing our deepest feelings about what we do – and what changes might make us more truly satisfied with our work.”

“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities – which Hashem, your G-d gives you – for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 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. Righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue, so that you will possess the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.”[1]

The Chofetz Chaim notes that if someone says about another individual that he is ‘wealthy’, we cannot be too sure that it’s true. After all, perhaps the labeler is himself poor and his standard of wealth are a far cry from those of society[2]. However, if Baron de Rothschild would refer to someone as wealthy we can be confident that the individual is truly wealthy. Rothschild was well-known as one of the wealthiest individuals in Europe, so he is a good barometer of wealth.

In a similar vein, if someone refers to another individual as a wise person, we cannot be sure that he is truly an erudite individual. The labeler may not be very intelligent himself and so his measure of wisdom may not be too accurate. However, if Rabbi Akiva Eiger was to declare that a certain individual was wise we could rest assured that he is truly brilliant. Rabbi Akiva Eiger was himself a brilliant scholar of unparalleled proportions, and so he can know the true measure of wisdom. How much more so if King Solomon, the wisest of men, testified about another person’s wisdom!

As the adage goes, “It takes one to know one!”

If the measure of wealth and wisdom can be so defined by mortals who possess great wealth or wisdom, how much more can be said about G-d Himself. If the Creator of the world, who Himself grants all wealth and wisdom, were to testify about a certain individual that He possessed superior knowledge or wealth we would have no doubt about the veracity of those titles. Conversely, if G-d were to declare that a wise person had forfeited his wisdom or that a wealthy individual lost his wealth we would have no doubt that it was true.

Thus, explained the Chofetz Chaim, we must appreciate the Torah’s declarations about the deleterious effect of bribery. The Torah declares that bribery blinds the eyes of the wise person. This is an individual whom the Torah itself declares to be a wise and righteous person. Yet - the Torah warns - even such a person will be unable to objectively offer a judicial ruling if he was offered the most minimal bribe.

The beginning of parshas Shoftim seems, prima facie, solely dedicated to judges and officers. In truth however, it contains a poignant and vital message for every individual. We all pass judgment myriads of times each day. We view events and actions, and react accordingly. We must realize how much we are biased and influenced, even unwittingly. We are prodded to act based on our desires and penchants, and by events that transpire.

During my high school days in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, a rebbe would deliver a lecture based on the parsha each Thursday night. Each Thursday evening, we students would ask the Menahel who was speaking. Normally he would respond in kind, by telling us the name of the rebbe. But every few weeks he would respond that ‘a close relative of his’ would be speaking. We knew that that was his way of saying that he was himself delivering the lecture that night.

The wise Sages declared that every individual is related to himself! In fact, we are our own closet relative, even more than our own parents and children. If we are naturally inclined to care about our relatives and those we feel close to, how much more so are we blinded by ourselves.

The Washington Post used to promote its circulation with a classic slogan: “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it!” A person who is candid with himself must realize that in regard to his own shortcomings he can ‘never truly get it’ That is why we need to be able to hearken to the gentle criticisms of friends and loved ones, for they have a more objective view of our behavior and can be the ultimate guides towards our greatest growth.[3]

Even the greatest therapist and parenting expert needs to solicit the advice of others when it comes to his/her own children. In regard to ourselves we must realize that we are always contending with our own biases and emotions, and therefore need the advice and guidance of others.

The Ba’alei Mussar note that the aforementioned verses at the beginning of parshas Shoftim are an exhortation to every person. Those words remind us that we must enact our own personal safeguards and protections from sin.

It is hardly coincidental that parshas Shoftim is read at the beginning of the month of Elul, when we commence our efforts towards repentance and spiritual renewal. Before one can embark on any path he must be able to visualize where he is headed. And that can only be feasibly accomplished if one is willing to solicit advice and guidance from others.

“For bribery will blind the eyes of the wise”

“If you don’t get it, you don’t get it!”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1] Devorim 16:18-20

[2] Years ago, when I was in yeshiva, there was a worker who wasn’t of the brightest ilk. He was once asked how much he thought someone’s home (a particularly expensive home) cost. His response was, “That’s an expensive house; it’s gotta cost at least a hundred dollars.”

[3] In fact, that is one of the greatest gifts of a proper marriage. The Sages explain that G-d created the institution of marriage – two people with such diverse backgrounds and temperaments - joining together in building a family, so that they can help build each other in a loving manner.

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