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Shoftim(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

Objectivity is Relative

"Many pens have been broken and seas of ink consumed to describe things that never happened." (Maimonides)

Catholics, Moslems, Jews. Democrats, Feminists, Socialists, Liberals, Human Rights Activists, Civil Rights Activists, Environmentalists, Anti-Nuclear groups. United Nations, NATO, The Peace Corps, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Big Brothers. Therapists, Doctors and Social Workers!

I want to know: If all these people claim to be saving the world, then who's causing all the problems?!

* * *


JOE: "Please forgive me for even suggesting such a ridiculous notion, but could it possibly be now and again (and ever so rarely) that people may in the slightest way be influenced to one side and sometimes just a little bit subjective?"

BILL: "You're 100 percent right. People can in fact be quite subjective. But not me!"

Objectivity is relative. I claim to see more of the truth than you, you see more than him, and we both see more than everyone else!

Clarity on a situation is often proportional to how far you are emotionally removed from it. It's hard to be objective about any situation which involves your child or spouse, or when the person criticizing you is a close relative or a bad enemy.

How often have you been in a situation where the other guy is blatantly wrong, but somehow he's determined to defend himself? He obviously has some stake in being right: Maybe his pride on the line, or money is in question.

What about us? Do we always see the truth so clearly? Or is it just everyone else who's mistaken?!

Surely, if there's an honest bone in our bodies, we have to admit that not only are we subjective part of the time, but in all likelihood, most of the time. And how could it not be so? We are constantly influenced by personal concerns, pettiness, desires and subconscious wants. Of course the world is going to be viewed through the tint in our glasses!

* * *


Bribery doesn't just mean a brown paper bag stuffed with cash, delivered in the middle of the night. Bribery can take many forms:

  1. "Should I string the girl along or not? It's fair. I made no commitments."

    Are you sure? Would you accept this line of reasoning from your sister's boyfriend?

  2. "It's obvious my partner cheated me. He only claims that I cheated him in order to defend to my accusations against him. He's not as honest as I thought he was. It's too bad there aren't more people like me."

    If you want to be objective, take your dispute to an impartial third party whom you both trust, and let him adjudicate.

  3. "Should I keep kosher? Of course not. Judaism is nice but it's not for me."

    If Judaism is not for Jews, then who is it for - the pygmies? Just possibly, is there a subconscious bribe taking place here? What's getting in your way? Is it more comfortable NOT to keep kosher?

* * *


In this week's parsha, the Torah tells us:

"Do not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous." (Deuteronomy 16:19)

If you were to discover that the mayor of your city owned stock in a company that just acquired a major municipal contract, wouldn't you be just a little suspicious?

Of course the mayor is acting with bias! Yet he claims: "I was objective. We awarded the contract based solely on the fact that this is the best company with the finest product."

Rashi (11th century French rabbi) comments on this verse by saying: When a judge accepts a bribe from one of the claimants, it is impossible that he will not be inclined to turn the judgment in his favor. No matter who you are, no matter how wise you may be, bribery will affect your decisions.

Once you start taking bribes it affects everything in your life. The shutters of your eyes close and all becomes dark outside.

Decisions are often fine lines. In the final analysis, they are usually made in a person's mind, not on a spread-sheet. Perhaps our mayor doesn't realize he's being affected by self-interest.

Perhaps we don't realize when we are being affected!

Our Sages say: "Be a judge, not a lawyer" (Pirkei Avot 1:8). In life, we are constantly required to make judgment calls. Our responsibility is to meet these situations as a judge who renders an impartial decision, and not as a lawyer who is paid to advocate for one side over the other.

Be a judge who won't take a bribe. Judge the situation; don't defend it.

* * *


Question 1: Do you secretly believe that the country would run better if the President phoned you regularly for advice?

Question 2: What was the last unresolved argument or dispute you were involved in? Did you seek any outside advice? In the future, how would you go about seeking an impartial opinion?

Question 3: When was the last time you admitted you were wrong in a personal dispute? Do you think the infrequency of such instances is due to your supreme intellect - or your lack of objectivity?

January 12, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, August 27, 2014 12:54 PM


This is great! Thank you so much for posting it!

(3) Laya, September 9, 2005 12:00 AM

my answers to the questions to ponder

1) Yes, you may pass my phone number to the president and I will not charge a consulting fee.
2) I did seek outside advice and invited the person to join me in seeing a rav to resolve it. He assured me that I should go alone because he knew he was right!
3) Wait a minute, I thought Judasim teaches that the wife is always right! Did I get that wrong?

Thanks for a great essay. :-P

(2) Geoff Midlane, August 21, 2001 12:00 AM

This expanded and opened me to lateral thinking of a different "world"

It has been great to see "the mundane" does not apply in such a challenging light that makes so much that seemed senseless come to light.

(1) Anonymous, September 2, 2000 12:00 AM

Judaism has so much commonsense

Sometimes I get lost in all the seeming ritual involved with Judaism. On the other hand there is also so much commonsense in it. It really is a guide for life. Parts of this article reminded me of the old adage "Everyone is queer, excepting thee and me and even thee's a little queer."

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