The Yom Kippur Phenomenon – Shoftim (Parsha insights – Sages of Mussar)

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The power of external persuasion – whether in the form of money, sweet words, or honor – is far more powerful than we imagine.  Indeed, even the smallest temptation can easily influence us to compromise our values. 

On Yom HaKippurim the yetzer horah, serves as the prosecutor, bringing all of our transgressions before HaShem. His intention is to accuse us of culpability and demand that we our punished. However, when we offer the seir hamishtaleach – the scapegoat offering – the yetzer horah is placated.

In other words, the seir hamishtaleach – “bribes” the yetzer horah. This small gesture that we make on behalf of the yetzer horah has a potent effect: It persuades him – instantaneously – to switch from a dangerous accuser,  to plead before HaShem on behalf of  Klal Yisrael.

The yetzer horah is a powerful, spiritual force. Nevertheless, a small gift overcomes and appeases him. How much more so, does mortal man – who is made of flesh and blood – need to exercise constant vigilance not to succumb to the subtle beckoning of interpersonal politics. In light of this, the Torah (Devarim 16:19) warns the judges:  “Do not corrupt justice; do not show favor to someone, and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise.”

The Talmud (Kesuvos 105b) tells us that Shmuel was once crossing a river on a ferry. A man approached and offered his hand to assist him. Afterwards, Shmuel asked the man what brought him to town. “I have a lawsuit,” he replied. “I am disqualified from acting as your judge,” said Shmuel.  Yet Shmuel was as pure as an angel, as were all the Sages of the Talmud. If so, why did he remove himself from judgment over a minor courtesy?

The Torah reveals the truth of man’s susceptible nature.  Shmuel realized even a mere stretching forth of a helping hand could cause a perversion in his rendering justice. Let us also, take the necessary precautions not be swayed by “bribes” – and then we will merit the abundant blessings of Hashem.

Today: No matter what “bribe” is offered to you as a reason not to do a Mitzvah – do not accept it.

 Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Zvi Miller and the Salant Foundation

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