There is a verse in the Torah portion this week, which says about G-d, “ He is great, mighty and awesome, He shows no favoritism, and accepts no bribes.” Rashi comments on this verse, “ A person can”t appease G-d with money.”
Basically, the Torah goes out of its way to tell us that we can't “pay off” G-d to look the other way, or slip Him a twenty to overlook our mistakes. It doesn't work like that. (Interestingly enough, in the Middle Ages, many Catholic priests offered their parishioners “indulgences”, whereby a person would pay the Church a certain amount of money to be forgiven for sins!)
But would a person begin to think that G-d could be bribed!? He is a spiritual entity, the creator of Heaven and Earth! Can we really expect Him to be motivated by a couple hundred bucks? Why does the Torah find it necessary to even mention such an idea?
The reality is, although even a fool understands that G-d can’t be bribed in the human sense of the word, there is a more subtle method where divine bribery could present itself.
Human nature is such that when a person knows deep down that they should be doing something, they often appease themselves by making a token (often financial) gesture. For instance, a brother estranged from his sister will refuse to visit or speak with her, but every year for her birthday, he may send her a card and gift. Although parting with money is not easy, often times it is easier to write a check than to commit personally. From time to time we may view our relationship with G-d in the same way. Sometimes this happens with money, and sometimes with our actions.
For instance, often a Jewish person will pay large sums to their Synagogue or JCC, but will rarely attend services, pray at home, or study Torah. That donation is immeasurably special, and very important, but G-d wants every Jew to be involved personally, on their level. It goes beyond money. In many communities, a large number of people sit on “committees”, (the building committee, the event committee, the ritual committee, the kiddush committee, etc.) and think that they have discharged their spiritual obligations by sitting on these boards! Even the most “ultra-Orthodox” will perhaps pray or study in the morning, and feel as if they have “payed their debt” to G-d, and are now free to spend the rest of the day as they wish!
The verse is coming to tell us that G-d wants each of us constantly connected, even if only on a modest, small scale, rather than by “acting Jewishly” by only doing a few major deeds a year. The fifteen minutes a person spends studying Torah may very well be more precious than a large donation. Lighting Shabbat candles on a random Friday evening may be more special than begrudgingly attending Kol Nidrei services. Judaism does indeed have a very strong sense of community involvement, and synagogue and institutional life is very important. (As is giving generously to Jewish organizations.)
But equally important is the private connection a Jew creates between themselves and G-d. Sometimes, it is easier to look outside of ourselves for this connection, but as the verse says, “G-d desires the heart”. We need to recognize the inherent worth and beauty of each of our “small” deeds, and stop thinking that we can only appease G-d with large gifts. G-d is waiting to have an intimate, meaningful relationship with each of us. All we have to do, is let Him in with those “small” deeds.