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Fittingly, a Torah portion called “Mishpatim,” which means laws in Hebrew, contains many of the Bible’s commandments, including the prohibition against bribery…in all of its forms!

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18) and it is packed with over 50 of the Torah’s 613 commandments. One of these commandments is the prohibition of not taking a bribe. As it says, “You should not take a bribe, because the bribe will blind those who can see and will pervert the words of the righteous.” Notice how the verse explicitly states that bribes even affect the righteous. In other words, NO ONE is immune from the effects of bribery. Nobody can examine a situation in a balanced manner once he or she accepts a bribe.

What’s interesting is that immediately following the warning against taking bribes, the Torah then tells us “And a convert, you should not oppress the convert; for you know what it means to be a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

There is a general rule that verses that follow one another are somehow connected. The obvious question here is what is the connection between not taking bribes and being nice to converts? They seem totally unrelated!

It is explained that not all bribes are based on money. Sometimes a person is “bribed” not by money, but by his life experiences.

For example, if a person loses a father, especially at a young age, most people will show that person compassion and sympathy. But sometimes, one who also lost a parent at a young age will show no sympathy whatsoever for the newly orphaned. Such a person will reason that “if I made it through life without a parent then so can he!” Sometimes those who suffered a similar tragedy show the least compassion for someone in the same circumstances.

The warning against bribes also serves to teach us that we must not let our life experiences, such as having been strangers in the land of Egypt, harden our attitude toward converts. Just because we were strangers in Egypt and “made it” doesn’t mean we leave converts, strangers, and others less fortunate than us to fend for themselves and try to make it on their own. We must not let “the briberies of life” turn us away from the proper and natural reaction to those less fortunate than us.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below.