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EKEV 5775 - “When is it a Mitzvah to Accept a Bribe?”

EKEV 5775

“When is it a Mitzvah to Accept a Bribe?”

Did you ever pray for something again and again and again to no avail? The Talmud implores us: “If you pray and are not answered, pray again!”

Rebbe Nachman taught: “Many years may pass, and it may seem that you are accomplishing nothing with your prayers. Do not give up, for every word makes an impression. It is written, ‘Water wears away stone.’  It may seem that water dripping on stone will never make an impression, but after many years, it can actually make a hole in the stone.” And so our prayers!

On the other hand, there are others who hardly pray at all because they’re reluctant to ask Gd for what they need or want. Sometimes this is because they don’t want to bother Gd; sometimes it’s because they don’t feel worthy; and sometimes it’s because they feel that Gd should know what they need and what we want, so why ask? And if He’s not giving them these things, then Gd has his reasons.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech tells the story of when he was a young child he couldn’t understand how Moses could have a speech defect? Would not his stuttering make him unsuitable to be the leader of the Jewish people? So he asked his teacher, “Since Gd can do anything, why didn’t He heal Moses?”

          After sharing with him how the classical commentators address this question, his teacher told him the answer he preferred and urged him to always keep it in mind—especially when life presents difficult problems that might need Gd’s help. Rabbi Blech writes that his teacher said to him: “Yes, Moses would have been far better off had he had the gift of eloquence in addition to all of his other virtues. His stuttering was a disability and of course Gd could have easily removed this stigma. So why didn’t He? Because Moses never asked! In all his humility, Moses didn’t feel worthy of making the request.”

          “Never be afraid to ask anything of Gd. “If you’re withholding a request because you think it’s too much to ask for, that’s an insult to the Almighty, almost as if you’re implying it’s too hard for Him to accomplish.”

So don’t be afraid to ask! Gd has created the world in such a fashion that we would pray to Him for our needs. We need rain to water our crops and so the world is set up so that we look to Heaven for rain. Rebbe Nachman advises us to pray for everything: “Make it a habit to pray for all your needs, large and small.” Does this mean it is permissible to pray for you’re the Falcons to win the Super Bowl? Absolutely!

However, when we pray for our needs we shouldn’t just ask for riches, honor and physical pleasures. No, we should ask Gd to give us what we ask—health, prosperity, good relationships—so that we may better serve Him. Give Gd a good reason in your prayers to give you what you ask for. So when you pray, go ahead and think big and ask Gd—the All Merciful—to fulfill your dreams and answer your prayers.

In fact—and here’s my real message—may I suggest that you even offer Gd a bribe!? Don’t be shocked. Yes I know there’s a passage in today’s Torah reading (Deut. 10:17) that explicitly states that Hashem is a Gd, v’lo yikach shochad, “Who does not accept a bribe.” But, as the Gur Arye explains, this is the case of an unrepentant sinner that tries to bribe Gd by contributing to charity. You can’t eat a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur and think a check to charity will wipe out your sin.

However, it is a time-honored Jewish custom to bribe Gd in other ways. There’s a great Midrash on the 3rd verse of the priestly blessing: Yisa Hashem panav eylecha v’yaseym l’cha shalom, “May Gd lift up his face to you and grant you peace.” “Lift up the face” in Hebrew is an expression also meaning, “to overlook.” In other words, the blessing may be understood as: “May Gd overlook your sins and grant you peace.” Thus, Gd takes bribes in the sense that if people do other good deeds, He will take this into account when judging them. And so within the totality of judgment, Gd does accept bribes! 

What are these good deeds that constitute a bribe of Gd? If you go back 5 verses, the Torah (Deut. 10:12-13) tells us: “Now, O Israel, what does Hashem your Gd ask of you? Only to be in awe of Hashem your Gd, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve Hashem your Gd, with all your heart and with all your soul; to observe the mitzvot of Hashem and His decrees…for your benefit.”

A classic example of this is the Mishebeyrach prayer for the sick that we recite when the Torah is read. In it we make a pledge to charity and ask: “In reward for this, may the Holy One Blessed Be He, be filled with compassion for him/her [that we pray for] to restore his/her health.”

And the bribe need not be money. The verse indicates that Gd asks us “to go in all His [Gd’s] ways.” It can then be working for a worthy cause. The verse also tells us to serve Gd—doing His mitzvot—“with all you heart and all your soul.” It then can be pledging to perform a mitzvah with greater energy and focus—from making your Shabbos more meaningful to visiting the sick. It can be a kabalah, accepting upon yourself something new to increase your closeness to Gd—like reviewing some of the Torah portion for the week to come every day or regularly attending a Torah class, coming to shule more or helping out a neighbor who is ill. Whatever it is, when you seriously need Gd’s help, it’s a great idea to bribe Gd by doing something significant to draw closer to Him.

One of my favorite stories is about a businessman who dies and finds himself on the line where it is decided whether he gets into heaven or not. In front of him he sees a man being asked to tell about the good deeds he has done. He lists them along with how much he has given to charity over the years. After he finishes, the angel in charge tells him to proceed through the gates into heaven.

          When it’s the businessman’s turn, he clears his throat and says he did not have time for many good deeds, and had not given much to charity over the years. He then takes out his check book and says, “Just tell me how much it’ll cost and I will write you a check.”

          The angel says to him, “Checks? We don’t take checks. Up here we only take receipts.”

In heaven they take receipts. It is not a joke. It is true! Do you want to bribe Gd? Come up with receipts. Be overly generous. It is said, “You can’t take it with you.” That’s true! So ask your family to bury you with your charitable receipts because bribes are welcome in heaven! 

Let me ask you: Do you accept bribes? If you have a dispute with long-time friend, or perhaps with someone you are indebted to, or with relatives you love, are you going to judge them? Are you going to punish them? What about the good memories? What about the wonderful things they did for you and that have happened over the years between you? Are they not worthy as a bribe?

And, you know, Gd accepts bribes not only from the person being judged. If your father or mother did acts of kindness for others, this is also an acceptable bribe in heaven for you their child. So if someone from the family who is close to you, who did so much for you, hurts you, accept that as a bribe. A judge cannot take bribes. But the Torah does not prohibit a litigant from taking a bribe from the other side. 

How can you get angry at your husband or wife? After all, he/she she married you. Remember how the other ones didn’t want you? So the next time you get upset at your spouse, remember how, when life was dark, when you needed help, he/she was there for you; remember some of the wonderful things they did for you and the wonderful experiences you shared.

Accept a bribe from others and Gd will accept your bribes to Him. Amen!

                                      Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

                                      3/8/15

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