Do not accept a bribe for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked” [Devarim 16:19]

This is not the first time in the Torah where we have been warned about the corrupting influence of bribery. In the sidra of Mishpatim there is a similar phrase, except it says that bribery will blind the eyes of the shrewd (pikchim) whereas here it says it will blind the eyes of the wise (chachamim). What is the difference?

The Vilna Gaon (eighteenth century) explains that when a Dayan or a judge rules on a case he has to combine two talents. First, he must have a thorough grasp of the halachic literature to be able to analyse the case at hand. Second, he must be shrewd or street-wise. He needs to have a sense of whether people are telling the truth or pretending. The Dayan must simultaneously be a chacham, wise in Torah knowledge, and a pikeach, wise in the ways of the world.

Bribery has the insidious effect of blinding a person not only to his Torah knowledge, that he will forget what otherwise was at his fingertips, but it can blunt his sense of shrewd judgement as well.