Campaign Contribution or Bribery?
This week’s Torah portion begins with the commandments of appointing judges and officers to ensure a just and orderly society. A society based on justice, honesty and integrity will only happen if those who are to uphold the law are just, moral, ethical and honest themselves. Hence the Torah instructs the judges…
You shall not distort judgments nor shall you (show a litigant) favoritism. And you shall not accept a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.
Bribery is an ongoing issue whenever someone is in a position of power. Its corruptive influence is the bane of some nations like Mexico where all levels of society seem locked in its grip, creating a nation where justice is almost impossible to receive, resulting in much suffering by so many innocents who have nowhere to turn.
Politicians of all stripes and nations have a hard time keeping their hands out of the bribery cookie jar. And it’s not always done in a mafia-type scenario of an envelope full of cash greasing the palms. No, it can take on the more “clean” forms such as the Canadian Prime Minister hiring a charity to administer a huge government program, while at the same time said charity paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in “speaking fees” to Trudeau’s immediate family. Hmmm.
The Torah’s statement that “bribery blinds the eyes of the wise” is probably one of the most overlooked issues by men and women who hold power and whose decisions will significantly affect the lives of countless others. Too often we hear of politicians who claim that they are not influenced by gifts and donations they have received. But this is simply not true.
When the Torah says, “Bribery blinds the eyes of the wise” it is stating a fact. That it is impossible not to be influenced by a gift – large or small – because the power of giving and receiving is built into the fabric of Creation. It is akin to gravity. You are not exempt from the effects of gravity no matter how much you may wish to convince yourselves otherwise. So too it is impossible to be exempt from the effects of a gift by another.
Put another way, giving is the most essential element that creates a bond between two people. The more I give to another, the more kinship, like and even love I feel toward that person. And the more I continue to give, the closer I feel and the stronger the bond.
This is why parents love their children more than their children love them back. And this is perfectly fine; it is the way it ought to be. Parents put way more into their kids than kids put into their parents. And so, quite naturally, parents love their kids more than those kids love the parents. It is not suggesting that children don’t love their parents, but that it is impossible for it to be of the same degree, intensity and strength.
This self-same dynamic, when used the wrong way, spells out the impropriety of bribery. When a gift is given, when a campaign donation is made, the recipient will feel closer to the giver and feel beholden to them in some way, shape or form because gratitude is the natural outcome of giving. As such, there in an inherent flaw in any system that allows for unfettered donations to government officials.
Any government official who claims that such gifts do not change, alter or affect their decision-making ability regarding issues that overlap with the givers interest is simply lying or deluding themselves to this truth. Just like you cannot deny gravity, you cannot deny the power that a gift creates between two people. “Bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.” It just does.
The rabbis in the Talmud were very attuned to this dynamic and point out that the Hebrew word for Bribery, שוחד shochad can be played with and broken into two words, שהוא חד shehu chad – which means “that he is one (with the recipient).” Bribery invariably creates oneness between the giver and the receiver.
Once you accept the gift, once you benefit from another, you have entered into a relationship that is beyond a professional one and now a personal one. It most areas of life that is fine, commendable and wanted. But for those who choose to take on leadership roles that affect the lives of thousands and even millions of others, those gifts and donations cannot do anything but blind them to the good and truth they are to uphold. They are no longer judging based on the greater good for the community at large but in accordance with the giver’s interests.
Alas what are we to do given the reality of our political system which is not going to change any time soon? In this scenario, the best we can hope for is that the sources of the gifts are people who are good, upright and fighting the good fight for the right cause. It’s when the bad guys become the biggest donors that we all have to start worrying. So while it is important to see what any politician’s positions might be, it might be just as important to know who their circle of friends are and what the source of their funding is. For example, do they get an A rating from the NRA or an F?
It is easy to capture the heart and mind of another. All it takes is a little kindness and some gifts. The Talmud says Olam Chessed Yibaneh – that the world is built on kindness. It is the foremost foundation in our world and in our life. Used properly, giving builds love, relationships, homes and families. However, used improperly gift-giving can destroy cities and countries. Let us hope and pray that the good givers outweigh the bad ones and that good leaders shall emerge.
I have tried my hand at bribery
Blackmail and deceit…
Soon I will be gone
But let me just warn you all
Before I do pass on:
Stay free from petty jealousies
Live by no man’s code
And hold your judgment for yourself
Lest you wind up on his road