Many of my friends dread getting a notice for jury duty. Me, not so much. Amazingly, jury duty can be a spiritual experience.
At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9), we are instructed to “appoint judges and law enforcement officers in every city… and pursue justice.”
The Torah’s approach to law and justice is a precursor for the secular legal systems which democratic societies depend.
Fundamental to the Torah legal system is the rule that “you may not accept a bribe, because a bribe will blind the eyes of the wise” (Deuteronomy 18:19).
Our sages explain that bribes take many forms besides money or gifts. Judges may not favor someone they like over someone they hate or the rich over the poor.
Judaism teaches that justice must be righteous and needs to be blind to favoritism.
When we make personal decisions, we should emulate the behavior of righteous judges and not allow bribes to taint our conclusions.
One of the most common spiritual bribes is when someone converts to Christianity because of the promise of going to heaven instead of hell. Promises of salvation can mislead individuals from making informed and correct decisions.
Our sages provide helpful advice that can help us avoid this mistake. They proclaim, “do not be like a servant who serves his master on the condition of receiving a reward; rather, be like servants who serve his master without the condition of receiving a reward’ (Ethics of our Fathers 1:3).
The real reward for serving God is the opportunity to be connected to the Almighty through God’s commandments (mitzvah). This point is evident from the fact that the root of the word mitzvah also means “connection.”
Our sages stated it this way, “the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah" (Ethics of our Fathers 4:2).
May this Shabbat enrich us to serve God with a pure heart and be connected to the infinite God by cherishing and performing His commandments.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz