Torah thought forFriday 5 Elul 5781 August 13 2021

Parashat Shofetim

From the teachings of Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztzvk”l
(written by his grandson HaRav HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

The Danger of Bribery Even if Covert and Unknown to the Recipient, How Each Person must Resist the Bribery of the Yetzer Hara and Instead Heed the Voice of the Yetzer Hatov, and also Strengthen Themselves in Torah-study

It states in the Parshah, “Appoint for yourselves judges and police for your tribes in all your settlements that Hashem your G-d is giving you, and make sure that they administer honest judgement for the people. Do not bend justice and do not give special consideration [to anyone]. Do not take bribes, since bribery makes the wise blind and perverts the words of the righteous” (Devarim 16:18-19).

The question is asked what does it mean “since bribery makes the wise blind and perverts the words of the righteous”? Is it conceivable that a person who takes a bribe would be considered a tzaddik? For if he takes a bribe, he is a wicked person, how would it be possible to call him a tzaddik?

About two hundred years ago there was a gaon whose name was Rav Yaakov Shor who wrote a sefer “Koach Shor.” He quotes in his work the following story that happen to him:

One day two plaintiffs arrived at the Bet Din, Reuven and Shimon, they had complaints against one another. The rav sat and to his side were two pupils and they heard the two sides present their arguments. After they finished their presentations, the rav felt that Reuven was innocent and that Shimon is liable. But his pupils differed and thought the reverse that Reuven is liable and Shimon innocent. The rav began to argue with them, he presented his proofs, but they rejected his words and brought proofs to the contrary. Therefore he decided to delay the final sentence by one day.

The next day the rav arrived at the Bet Din with his pupils the other dayanim. And now he had changed his mind and suddenly he had the same opinion as his pupils that Reuven is liable and that Shimon is innocent. The rav was surprised how he could have thought differently yesterday. What happened here? To the extent that he decided to delay the final sentence for yet another day.

When he came to leave the rav put on his coat and he felt something in his pocket. He put his hand into his pocket and he found a gold coin! The rav was surprised, where did this gold coin come from? Until it became apparent that on the first day of the case, Shimon saw that the rav was going to find against him, so he approached his coat and slipped a gold coin into it.

When this became known to the rav, he was very cross, he took the coin and threw it far from himself. The next day when he sat on his chair in the Bet Din, he was able to analyse the matter that Shimon is liable and Reuven innocent and when the rav explained his reasons to the other two dayanim they also agreed with him, and they aligned their opinions to make Shimon liable and Reuven innocent.

From here we see that even though Rav Yaakov Shor didn’t know that he had received a bribe, nevertheless, the bride caused him to make a mistake and changed his mind. Concerning this it states, “since bribery makes the wise blind and perverts the words of the righteous,” even though the dayan is a tzaddik, nevertheless, the bribe blinds his eyes.

And so we find in the Gemara Ketubot (105a), that the Gemara describes how meticulous our chachamim were in not receiving bribes. Even when they received a little honour, or a little benefit they would cease to judge the case. This is because bribery is very severe to the extent that it literally influences the mind of the dayan. All this applies in the main to dayanim and not to other individuals.

However, in truth, every person is a judge and dayan and must therefore be meticulous not to accept bribes. And so Shlomoh HaMelech said, “Better is a poor but wise youth than an old foolish king” (Kohelet 4:13). Who is the “poor but wise youth”? The yetzer hatov. And who is the “old foolish king”? This is the yetzer hara. For every person has two passions, the yetzer hatov and yetzer hara, and they present their arguments before him. The yetzer hara is called “old,” because he arrives at the person immediately when they are born, as the passuk states, “sin is crouching at the door” (Bereishit 4:1). But the yetzer hatov only comes to a person when he reaches the age of being required to observe the mitzvot, which is 13 for a boy, when he puts on tefillin, and twelve for a girl. Therefore the yetzer hara is considered old in contrast to the yetzer hatov, for the interim years when he was alone, he already acquired residence in the person’s heart and afterwards it is difficult for the person to listen to the voice of the yetzer hatov.

It is related about Rav Yonatan Eybeschütz (1690–1764) who once mentioned the words of our chachamim that the yetzer hara arrives immediately to a person at the dawn of their youth and only at bar mitzvah does the yetzer hatov arrive. A sharp person asked him, “Rav Yonatan! When you were a child what did you do? You didn’t have a yetzer hatov?” Rav Yonatan answered him, “Indeed there is a well-known halacha that it is forbidden to listen to one plaintiff whilst the other plaintiff isn’t present. Therefore  every time that the yetzer hara tried to incite me I silenced him, I said be quiet! ‘Listen [to every dispute] among your brothers, and judge honestly’ (Devarim 1:16). First let the yetzer hatov arrive and only then shall I listen to what is to come out of your mouth! And so I succeeded in pushing him away from me.”

There is a lot of truth in this. A person is absolutely able to be a judge. The yetzer hara comes and incites him to do this and that, whilst the yetzer hatov says to him, don’t listen to him! Shlomoh HaMelech came and said, “Better is a poor but wise youth than an old foolish king,” listen to the voice of the yetzer hatov and don’t listen to the yetzer hara! Why is the yetzer hara deemed a “king”? Because he pays a person in cash, he’s a king! He has a lot of money, commit a sin and immediately you will receive its benefits! Whereas the yetzer hatov is deemed a “child,” he has no money, he only promises that in Olam Haba we will receive our tremendous reward. The person sits and hears both arguments and thinks to himself, until I receive my reward in Olam Haba many more years shall pass, after 120 years. Therefore he is susceptible to be influenced by the yetzer hara. But in truth, this isn’t the yetzer hara, it is the voice of a fool, and he causes him, the listener, too to become a fool too! Therefore, “Better is a poor but wise youth than an old foolish king.”

The yetzer hara comes and says to the person, lie, do this and this and you will gain money! Do this sin and you will enjoy it! And I will pay you in cash! The yetzer hatov retorts, don’t listen to him, don’t take the bribe. The yetzer hara gives a bribe that he is paying in cash! But you stay on the straight path, listen to Hashem’s voice!

And so it transpires that in fact every person is a dayan and he must ensure that he doesn’t accept the bribery from the yetzer hara’s hand!

We are now in the days of the month of Ellul. Each and everyone of us must make every effort to strengthen in Torah, mitzvot and good deeds. When a person stands on Rosh Hashanah, he stands on the day of judgement, “Today is the birthday of the world, today He shall stand in judgement all creatures of the world.” When a person is judged they present before him all his actions, the good and the bad. Happy is the person who did good things, for from every mitzvah an angel was created, an advocate who advocates for him before Hashem. But a person who sinned, a destroying angel is created, which is his adversary. And so a person stands in judgement, and the angels stand this side and the other. These are his adversaries to his detriment, and these are his advocates for his merit. What is the status of each person? It is indeed difficult to ascertain, for we stand between the hammer and the anvil [a rock and a hard place].

So what shall we do? What does a person do who has a serious sentence looming over him? He takes the most competent lawyer without any considerations of the cost. For he knows that the best lawyer is listened to in court, they take on board what he says for they know that he is an expert in all the laws, and he knows all the arguments. But if a person takes a regular lawyer, then as soon as he opens his mouth, immediately the judges will just shut him up.

So who is the best lawyer that we have? Who is the one who is able to be the best advocate? This is the angel who has been created from Torah-study! The angel who has been created from Torah-study speaks convincingly and everyone listens to him. He stands and says, Ribono shel Olam! This person is so good! He studied a lot of Torah! He supported and strengthened Torah-study and encouraged many other also! Immediately they will seal him in the book of good life.

Concerning this David HaMelech said “To fulfil your decree they stand until this day, for all are Your servants. Had your Torah not been my preoccupation, then I would have perished in my affliction” (Tehillim 119:91-92). [These pessukim may be explained as follows] “To fulfil your decree they stand until this day,” on Rosh Hashanah, and what is it that I rely upon that I won’t be destroyed chas veshalom? “Had your Torah not been my preoccupation, then I would have perished in my affliction,” with the merit of the Torah! There is nothing like the Torah!

Therefore every person should find the time, even from “under the ground” as it were, time to study Torah. There is one who studies Shulchan Aruch, one who studies Gemara, whatever it is that they know how to study. The main thing is that they should study the holy Torah of Hashem. One who studies Torah happy is he and happy is his lot! He is certain to be successful in judgement and he will go free to a good life in peace.

Therefore listen to me for I am giving you great advice, “Go, O sons, heed me, I will teach you the fear of Hashem” (Tehillim 34:12), “…the wise man heeds counsel” (Mishlei 12:15). And Hashem will write in the book of good life, you and your families. May we hear about everyone only good news, salvation and comfort. Amen ken yehi ratzon.

Shabbat Shalom