BLINDING THE WISE by Rabbi Baruch Cohon

Corruption is not new, we know that.  It’s at least as old as prostitution, and in some ways related.  Moses knew about corruption, in fact warned against it in this week’s Torah reading, in Deuteronomy chapter 16:  “Do not turn judgment aside.  Do not favor persons.  And do not take a bribe, because a bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and pervert the cause of those who are right.”  Blinding the wise, indeed.  Nothing hides the truth like self-interest.  Moses’ warning echoes today.

          No special treatment for corporations “too big to fail.”  No exceptions for Super Pacs.  In a civil case, the judge is warned not to favor the poor plaintiff over the rich defendant because the plaintiff needs a break.  Nor should he favor the rich litigant to avoid shaming a prominent citizen.  The very next words out of Moses’ mouth are famous:

          “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

          Why repeat the word?  The commentator Bachya ben Asher amplifies:  “Justice, whether to your profit or loss, whether in word or in action, whether to Jew or non-Jew.”

          Bribery is not limited to money, either.  In a democracy, votes can also be used as bribes.  An official or a candidate can be pressured to change a key policy by the promise of a significant bloc of votes.  This year we see it clearly.  So maybe he really doesn’t believe in same-sex marriage, but if he comes out for it he can count on the support of Greenwich Village, West Hollywood and Haight-Ashbury.  Or maybe he truly believes in alternate energy, but if he plugs offshore oil drilling….   Etc., etc.

          Moses might not win an election today, but his plain straight words give us plenty to think about.


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