Recent studies into the relationships between the representatives of pharmaceutical companies and the doctors they visit have found that even a modest gift – like a pen or a notepad – can affect the doctor’s prescription writing and tilt it in favor of the company represented. Likewise, a study of the strategies of fundraising in the non-profit world has found that if a letter requesting a donation is accompanied by a gift, even a very small one such as four postcards, the likelihood of a positive response goes up 75 percent.

Psychologists describe this as the pull of reciprocity, our desire to give back to those who have given to us.

Jewish law is a little less euphemistic, a little more straight-forward. We call it a bribe and we are taught (in multiple sources throughout the Torah and its accompanying writings) that “Bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.” And, likewise, the bribe doesn’t have to be very large. So that a judge whose future client holds the door open for him as he enters the courthouse would be required to recuse himself from the case. He would have become biased in favor of the courteous client.

We are so susceptible and it doesn’t take much. We may fool ourselves into stating (and truly believing) that we are impartial but the psychological studies, and the Torah, tell a different story.

While there may be a few judges and doctors among my readers, the majority of us are not routinely faced with the situations described above. So how is this relevant to our lives?

The possibilities are so numerous it’s hard to know where to begin. Imagine you have the power to award a business contract to one company over another, one lawyer over another, one financial adviser over another. There are so many ways in which the subtle “bribery” of one of the parties could tilt our decision in their direction. Did they flatter us? Were we seduced by their words of praise? Did they take us out to dinner? Did they include an invitation to our spouse? Did they come to our home for dinner and bring a particularly thoughtful gift? Or even better, something for our children?

I know that codes have been instituted in the Big Pharma world to crack down on bigger gifts to potential clients but not in every industry. Are tickets to a sports event your price? What if it’s the playoffs? (A situation I actually recently witnessed)

It may be considered “business as usual”. It may be accepted in certain industries as an “all’s fair in…” philosophy. But at the very least, we should recognize when we’re being bought. We shouldn’t have an illusion that we’re impartial.

And what if the stakes are more personal? What if it’s a marriage at risk and one side is able to “bribe” us so that we see their way of thinking as the “right” one instead of being the impartial third party? What if we have to make decisions about future careers? Places to live? Communities to join?

The line between kindness, encouragement and bribery can be subtle. Not everyone has an illicit or financial or self-centered agenda. We don’t want to see nefarious motives on every corner. We want to appreciate unsolicited kindnesses and genuine goodness and giving. It’s actually not other people we want to be wary of. It’s ourselves. We just want to make sure our motives are pure and our sight is clear.

If “bribery blinds the eyes of the wise”, how much more so the rest of us for whom that appellation may not apply?