Follow by Email

Friday, 22 January 2016

Taking a Bribe to do Jewish

Daf Yomi Gittin 40

A number of years ago, a kiruv (outreach) organization on campuses across North America started the Maimonides Fellowship.  The Maimonides initiative invites students to learn Torah and offers them a stipend to do so.   Initially, the program came under fire with critics saying: how dare they bribe these young men and women to learn!   But the program gathered steam and eventually extended to a high school program!

Meanwhile, before long, a similar program was born that received widespread support across the Jewish community.  ‘Birthright’ offers college students the opportunity to visit Israel for ten days on an all-expenses paid trip.  The goal of Birthright is to inculcate young Jewish men and women with values of love for the State of Israel and Am Yisrael.   Baruch Hashem, the program has been very successful, and no longer is anyone questioning the wisdom of offering these ‘bribes’! 

There was once a servant that was shared by two partners.  One decided to release his share.  The other partner said to himself, ‘Now the rabbis will hear and force me to release my share!’  And so he went and transferred ownership to his child.
Rav Yosef the son of Rava sent the case to Rav Papa.  He sent back, “As he has done, so shall be done to him.  Let his dealings come back upon his head!  We know that children love shiny coins.  We will appoint a guardian for the child and then jingle some coins before him (and thereby entice him to release the servant).  Then the guardian writes the emancipation document in the child’s name.”

The right thing to do in this case was to free the servant.  Rav Papa’s solution to the problem was to bribe the child to do the right thing.  In other words, sometimes – especially when we’re dealing with children – we have to offer incentives so that they do the right thing.

We live in a generation full of spiritual children.  A parent or schoolteacher wouldn’t hesitate to incentivize good behaviour and dedication to learning with candy and prize.  Likewise, we shouldn’t be reluctant to incentivize greater commitment to our heritage among our spiritual children.  If a young adult doesn’t appreciate our heritage –Torah, mitzvos, Israel, or our people – we have a duty to do whatever we can to cultivate these values within them.  Yes, it might look like a ‘bribe’ but eventually they will come to truly appreciate all the investment that has been made in them; and hopefully reinvest back into the Jewish people!

Our Sages teach us that “From performance for the wrong reasons comes performance for the right reasons.”  That doesn’t just mean that we want people to do the right thing for the wrong reason until they eventually do it for the right reason.  According to Kabbalah, it means that when they ultimately do it for the right reasons, they will transform all the mitzvos they did for the wrong reasons and they too will be considered as if they were performed for the right reasons!

What does it mean for you practically?  Firstly, you can get involved by helping to sponsor a program like Maimonides or Birthright.  Don’t think of it as a bribe; think of it as an investment in this young person’s soul.  Sure, not everyone will decide to transform their life; but G-d willing, the program will ignite a spark in at least some of the participants.  When that happens, and they become beacons of light for others, your ‘investment’ has multiplied hundreds of percent!

And even on a personal level, there’s nothing wrong with incentivizing your own religious practice.  Let’s say you’re struggling with getting up in the morning for minyan.  At the same time, you’ve been eyeing a beautiful watch, but not sure if you should spend the money.  Make a deal with yourself: If you get up on time for minyan for a month, you’ve earned the watch.  And don’t worry, if you do the right thing by Hashem, as Rav Papa declared, “As he has done, so shall be done to him;” He will bless with you with the parnassah you seek!  Last time I checked, the Torah doesn’t have a problem with bribing yourself!


We are all spiritual children.  Sometimes we need incentives to stay on track.  May you find ways to encourage your own spiritual growth and the growth of those around you!