Why can’t a dayan take a bribe? This question is posed by Rava. That’s right, Rava. Probably the most oft-quoted Amorah in the entirety of Shas. Rashi explains that his question is referring to a situation wherein the bribe is being given to judge correctly. Why is even that assur?
“Once he has accepted a bribe from the litigant,” answers Rava to his own question, “the mind of the dayan has thus become close to that litigant, and the latter is like the dayan’s own self, and one does not see demerit for oneself. What is ‘shochad’ – sheh’hu chad, that he is one.” Elaborates Rashi, “A person does not see demerit for himself – one’s mind does not tend to incline towards the side of disadvantage, to cause himself to lose, even if he truly wants to judge truthfully. Sheh’hu chad – the giver and the taker become of one heart.”
The Gemara relates an anecdote to illustrate the extent of this power. “Rabi Yishmael the son of Rabi Yosi had a sharecropper who would bring him his basket of produce every Friday. One time, he brought it to Rabi Yishmael on Thursday. Rabi Yishmael said to him, why is today different? The sharecropper answered, I came to you now because I have a din Torah with someone, and I figured I may as well bring it now. Rabi Yishmael refused to accept it from him. [Furthermore,] he said to him, I am now disqualified from adjudicating your din Torah. Rabi Yishmael appointed a pair of Rabbanim to adjudicate the din Torah. Each time Rabi Yishmael passed by them (and heard what was transpiring), he said [to himself, if only] he would make a claim like this, [if only] he would make a claim like that! [Upon realizing how drawn he was to the side of the sharecropper,] Rabi Yishmael said, the spirit of those who accept bribes should rot! Look, I did not accept [what he brought for me], and even were I to have accepted it, I would have just been taking what is anyway rightfully mine; and still look what an effect it had on me. Those that accept real bribes, how much more so!”
Most of us are not dayanim. Therefore, the idea of not accepting bribes to adjudicate dinei Torah is not all that relevant to us on a practical level. There is a very, very practical lesson, though, that we can derive from this Gemara.
Most people seem to relate to bribery as something that is inherently bad. But that is incorrect. The Torah does not say that bribery is evil. It says that it necessarily pulls the thoughts, feelings, and desires of the recipient thereof towards the favor of the one who gave it to him. Therefore, in dinei Torah – which requires absolute objectivity in order to be able to judge accurately – the Torah forbids it. Of course, if someone utilizes bribery to get an official to break rules for him, for example, that is also wrong. But not because bribery is inherently wrong, rather because it was employed as a means to effecting something unfair or crooked.
But bribery does have its place. A big place at that.
In the first perek of Pirkei Avos we find the mandate, “Acquire a friend for yourself.” Rabbeinu Yonah explains, “the reason this is expressed in the language of acquisition is to indicate that if you do not manage to find a friend for free, buy one with your money, and make generous usage of your property in order to get a good friend; or, alternatively, acquire a friend through appeasing words and soft speech, don’t be exacting about what he says, rather bear the utterances of his mouth, even if he says things against you, do not answer him, for otherwise the love will not remain, because different minds see things differently, and sometimes you will want things to be a certain way, but your friend will say, no that’s no good, and if you do not give in, the bundle may fall apart.”
To sum up, Rabbeinu Yonah just told us that if you need to, use bribery and buttering-up to get yourself a good friend! In a similar vein, there is a Gemara that describes how a very successful mechaneich would offer fish-delicacies to his talmidim that weren’t coming to learn, in order to spur them to do so. In a word, he bribed them.
Now, I think it goes without saying that if the relationship never evolves past the bribery that got it moving in the first place, then it won’t have any lasting value. It may even cause damage. To be sure, relying on an eternal motivator of bribery without ever investing the effort to graduate past it, is not a suggested endeavor. What bribery can do, though – and this is very important to recognize – is smooth over the bumps and kinks that can prevent people from doing those things that they essentially would feel connected to.
Like being someone’s friend. If there really is no chemistry there, and one party is trying to push an artificial friendship with the force of bribery, he may succeed in achieving a cosmetic result, but it is just that: cosmetic. Also, it likely won’t last too long. In addition to the fact that the “friend” who feels beholden because of the ongoing beneficence he receives may come to seriously resent the “friendship”.
But it can happen that two people really could click and get along. They share interests and goals, they’re both trustworthy and loyal, and a genuine friendship between them has real potential. Just what? Perhaps this person who you’d like to develop a friendship with is super busy. And he already has a number of good friends. So, on the practical level, he is not in the market to develop and cultivate new friendships. He has neither the need nor the time. That is where bribery can come in. Not to forge a friendship, per se, but to remove a hurdle or barrier. If he would get to know you, he may really like you and appreciate your friendship very much. If you could somehow get the kid off the streets and into your classroom, he will very soon realize how much he really loves to learn!
So how do you draw him to you in the first place? Bribe him! With money, gifts, or words.
This tool can also be indispensable in relationships that one already has. For example, you did something not so great and your wife got annoyed with you. Go buy her a box of chocolates! No joke. Or a flower if that’s what she prefers. You can use the power of monetary pull to recover and revitalize the oneness that you already have. Shochad – sheh’hu chad, the giver and recipient become as one heart. For dinei Torah that’s a major no-no, but for relationships it is a wonderful and powerful tool that, if used in the correct manner, can go a long way in smoothing over the inevitable bumps along the road and removing the hurdles that sometimes pop up along the way.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.