Parshas Mishpatim

This week’s Parsha is Parshas Mishpatim. In this Parsha there are many commandments. One of them is the prohibition for s judge to take a bribe (Exodus 23:8). The Talmud explains to us that the very Hebrew word for a bribe, Shochad,/i> – comes from the Hebrew words Shehu Chad – “for he is one” indicating that once a judge has taken a bribe from one of the sides, he is now one with that side, and can no longer see the case from an impartial viewpoint. He now stands united in his view of the case with the party that gave him the bribe.,br>
The Talmud sites one example of the power a bribe can have upon a person, even the greatest of people. The High Priest (Kohen Gadol) was not allowed to be part of the Rabbinical Court that convened to decide if a leap year should be declared or not. Why couldn’t the High Priest be part of this decision? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 18b) explains that when we add a month to our lunar calendar, the High Holidays fall closer to the winter and to cold weather. Since the High Priest was required to immerse himself in the mikvah five times on Yom Kippur, he may not want to make a leap year that will cause Yom Kippur to come out in a time that is colder for him when he immerses. The High Priest may have his decision whether or not to declare a leap year be clouded by his desire to keep Yom Kippur closer to the summer, so it will be on a day that is warmer.,br>,br> If we think about this the reason given is a little puzzling. The weather in Jerusalem around the time of Yom Kippur, even on a late year, is not very cold at all. If it was necessary, we know that they were allowed to add some hot water into the mikvah that the High Priest immersed in. Nevertheless, the fact that there may be some minor inconvenience may affect the actions of the High Priest, as great a tzadik as he may have been.

Rav Yisroel Salanter explained that the concept of ulterior motivation affecting one’s deeds or opinion is not limited just to a judge in a court room. Each one of us is always forming opinions and deciding upon ways of behavior, based upon what we think. What we must realize is that we too have ulterior motivations,/b> that affect our opinions. These may be very deep, not obvious, but they are real and powerful. When we start thinking about someone, or reacting to a situation, it is imperative that we think a second time and discover any motivation within ourselves that is causing our behavior or reaction. How often do we say something or do something that we regret afterwards? If we realize that our immediate knee jerk reaction may not always be the correct one, hopefully we will think a second time before we decide what to say or what to do, and avoid the pitfalls of mistaken actions or words.